THE HOLY SPIRIT IN YOU
Through the Scriptures we receive knowledge we could receive in no other way. One of the supremely important revelations of the Bible is the nature of God. The Bible unfolds a mystery that we could know through no other source. The mystery is that God is both one and yet more than one; three persons, yet one God. The three persons revealed in Scripture are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This book will deal with the Holy Spirit.
One of the most profound and distinctive revelations of the whole Bible are that of the person and the work of the Holy Spirit. The first thing we must understand is that the Holy Spirit is Himself a person, just as much as the Father and the Son. Because of human parallels, it is comparatively easy for us to realize that God the Father is a person and God the Son is a person, but it is not as easy to realize that the Holy Spirit is a person.
Through the Holy Spirit, God knows everything; there is nothing hidden from God; and through the Holy Spirit, God is present everywhere at the same time. These two characteristics are represented by the theological terms omniscient and omnipresent, respectively. These traits are unfolded in various passages of Scripture. For instance, in Jeremiah 23:23-24, the Lord said,
“Am I only a God nearby, ” declares the LORD, “and not a God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the LORD. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the LORD.
God fills heavens and earth. There is no place where God is not in the universe. There is no place where things happen and God does not know about them. This is very beautifully unfolded in the opening verses of Psalm 139:
O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
(Vs. 1-12 NIV)
What beautiful language! What a wonderful unfolding of the greatness of the wisdom of God. God’s presence permeates the entire universe. There is nowhere that you can go and be hidden from God. No distance can separate you from Him. No darkness can hide you from Him. God is everywhere, throughout the entire universe. He knows all that is happening in every place.
The key that unlocks the secret is in the seventh verse, where the psalm says: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” This is a typical example of Hebrew poetry, where the two halves of the verse say essentially the same thing. God’s presence throughout the universe is His Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit, God is present everywhere, and through the Holy Spirit, God knows all that is going on in the universe at any time.
The Holy Spirit has been active in the universe from Creation onwards. The psalmist told us about the actual process of Creation:
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, And by the breath of His mouth all their host.
(Ps. 33:6 NAS)
Where the English translation says “breath,” the Hebrew says, literally, “spirit.” That would change the reading to: “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the [spirit] of His mouth all their host.” In other words, the two great agents of Creation that brought the whole universe into being were the Word of the Lord and the Spirit of the Lord, or the Holy Spirit. If we turn back to the verses at the beginning of the Bible that describe Creation, we see this unfolded in greater detail. Genesis 1:2-3 reads,
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
The presence of the Spirit of God was there in the formless darkness, in the void, in the waste. The word “hovering” suggests a bird. Many times in Scripture, the Holy Spirit is identified as being the heavenly Dove. Here we have heaven’s Dove, the Holy Spirit, hovering over the dark, formless waste of waters.
Verse 3 says, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Here again are the two agents of Creation: the Spirit of God and the Word of God. When they are united, Creation takes place. When the Spirit of God and the Word of God is there, then a new thing—in this case, light—is created. Light comes into being, formed by the Spirit and by the Word of God. You can see that the Holy Spirit has been at work in the universe from Creation onwards and has always been present everywhere in the universe. In a sense, the Holy Spirit is the active, effective agent of the Godhead.
The Holy Spirit inspired and empowered all the men of God in the Old Testament. The list is too long to give all the names, but we will consider several examples.
The first one is Bezalel, the man who designed and created the Ark of the Covenant and all the furniture for the tabernacle of Moses. The Lord is speaking in Exodus 31:2-3:
See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts.
It was the Spirit of God filling Bezalel that gave him the ability to produce such outstanding creative workmanship. It always impresses me that he is the first man in Scripture of whom it was said that he was filled with the Spirit of God. The result, in his case, was craftsmanship. That gives a very high value to craftsmanship.
In Deuteronomy 34:9, we read about Joshua:
Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom [that’s another way of saying the Spirit of God] because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to [Joshua] and did what the LORD had commanded Moses.
Joshua was the great military leader who conquered the Promised Land, and he did it because he was filled with the Spirit of God.
In Judges 6:34, we read about Gideon:
Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him.
The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon and made him the mighty leader that he was. Before that, he was a timid young man, cowering at the winepress, unable to do anything effective. But he was changed by the Spirit of God coming upon him.
Then we read about David, the great king and psalmist, in 2 Samuel 23:1-2. This is what David said:
Now these are the last words of David. David the son of Jesse declares, And the man who was raised on high declares, The anointed of the God of Jacob, And the sweet psalmist of Israel, “The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, And His word was on my tongue.”
David gave us those beautiful psalms because, “The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me…His word was on my tongue.” Notice again, it is the Spirit of God and the Word of God.
In 2 Peter 1:21, Peter summed up the ministry of all the Old Testament prophets when he said:
For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Every prophet who brought a true message from God never spoke out of his own initiative or from his own thinking, reasoning, or understanding, but he was inspired (prompted or “carried along”) by the Holy Spirit. That made his message more than human; it became a message from God Himself.
As we look at the examples of these and many other men, we come to the conclusion that all the Old Testament men who served God acceptably and effectively did so solely through the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Surely, this is a lesson for us. If they were unable to serve God effectively without the Holy Spirit, neither can we do.
THE HOLY SPIRIT IN THE LIFE OF JESUS
we will now look at the Holy Spirit in the ministry and teaching of Jesus Himself. First, we need to see that John the Baptist, who came specifically to introduce Jesus and prepare the way for His ministry, introduced Him under one particular title, “the Baptizer in the Holy Spirit.”
I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
(Matt. 3:11 NIV)
Notice the distinction between Jesus and all the men that had come before Him: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” This ministry of Jesus as Baptizer in the Holy Spirit is mentioned in all four Gospels. The Bible attaches particular importance to it.
We find, too, that the Holy Spirit was the sole source of power for the entire ministry of Jesus. Until the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus at the Jordan River after John’s baptism, He never preached or performed a miracle. He waited for the Holy Spirit to come upon Him.
In Acts 10:38, Peter, speaking to the crowd of people gathered in the house of Cornelius, described the ministry of Jesus:
God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and…he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
The source and power of the ministry of Jesus on earth was the Holy Spirit. We have pointed out already that God is revealed as a triune God—three persons in one God—Father, Son, and Spirit. In this one verse, all three persons are identified. God the Father anointed Jesus the Son with the Holy Spirit. The result of the triune God in action on the level of humanity was healing: “He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil.” This was the secret and the source of the ministry of Jesus.
Even after the Resurrection, Jesus still depended on the Holy Spirit. This is a remarkable fact. In Acts 1:1-2, Luke started with these words:
In my former book [the gospel of Luke], Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.
Luke was speaking about the ministry of Jesus during the forty days between His resurrection and ascension. It says that Jesus gave instructions to His apostles through the Holy Spirit. Jesus is our pattern of total dependence upon the Holy Spirit. He relied on the Spirit for the power for His miracles and for His teaching; He did nothing apart from the Holy Spirit. The challenge of the ministry of Jesus is a challenge to us to depend on the Holy Spirit just as He did. Jesus not only moved in. the power of the Holy Spirit throughout His ministry, He also promised that His disciples would receive the same Holy Spirit that had empowered and inspired Him. In John 7:37-39, we read the following:
On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
Here is a tremendously dramatic contrast. We are first presented with a thirsty man: “If anyone is thirsty.” Then, through the incoming and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, this same man who had been thirsty and without sufficiency for himself becomes a channel for “streams of living water.” He is no longer in need, but a source of supply through the Holy Spirit. For every believer, the Holy Spirit is to be a limitless resource.
The writer of the gospel then went on to make it clear that though the promise was given during the earthly ministry of Jesus, it was not fulfilled until after Jesus had been glorified. He said, “Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.”
In John 14:15-18, Jesus said to His disciples,
If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth [this is one of the titles of the Holy Spirit]. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
There are some important points we need to notice here. First, Jesus said, “The Father…will give you another Counselor. ” What is the meaning of the word “another” in that context? It means that Jesus, as a person, had been with His disciples for three-and-a-half years. He said, in effect, “Now, as a person, I’m going to leave you. But when I go, another person, the Holy Spirit, will come in my place.”
Second, He used a particular word to describe the Holy Spirit that is translated “Counselor” in the New International Version. The Greek word is parakletos, and the Catholic versions translate it “Paraclete.” A paraclete is “somebody called in alongside to help.” Other translations are “Comforter” (KJV) and “Helper” (NKJV, NAS). Here we have the three related concepts: counselor, comforter, and helper.
Third, Jesus went on to point out that the Holy Spirit will remain with the disciples forever. Again, there is a contrast with His own relationship to the disciples. He was basically saying, “I’ve been with you a brief three-and-a-half years. I’m leaving now, and your hearts are broken. You feel you’re going to be left without help. But I’m going to send you another Helper, the Holy Spirit, and when He comes, He’ll never leave you. He’ll be with you forever.” Then Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans, but I’ll come to you.” The implication there is that without the Holy Spirit, they would have been left as orphans with no one to care for them, help them, or instruct them. But through the Holy Spirit, full provision had been made for them.
A little further on in the same discourse, Jesus returned to this theme:
But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.
(John 16:7 NIV)
Jesus was going, but another person was coming in His place. In John 16:12-15, Jesus returned once more to this vital message:
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 truth [Jesus emphasized the personality of the Holy Spirit by using the personal pronoun “he.”]. 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 bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.
Since that promise was fulfilled, the Holy Spirit is now the personal, resident representative of the Godhead on earth. He is the interpreter, the revelator, and the administrator for the Father and the Son. Jesus said, “He will take from what is Mine and impart it to you.” But He added, “All that belongs to the Father is mine.” The Holy Spirit, then, is the interpreter, the revelator, and the administrator of all that the Father and the Son have—all is revealed, interpreted, and administrated by the Holy Spirit.
WHAT HAPPENED AT PENTECOST
Recall that John the Baptist introduced Jesus as the Baptizer in the Holy Spirit. It was His distinctive introduction to Israel. Second, the Holy Spirit was the source of power for the whole ministry and teaching of Jesus; Jesus depended totally on the Holy Spirit. Third, Jesus promised His disciples that when He Himself went back to heaven, He would send the Holy Spirit in His place as His personal representative to be their Paraclete—Counselor, Comforter, or Helper—”the one called in alongside to help them.”
We now want to consider the fulfillment of this promise that Jesus made. In particular, we will examine the wonderful new thing that happened when the Holy Spirit descended on the Day of Pentecost. As with many of the promises of the Bible, this promise of the Holy Spirit was not completely realized in a single event; rather, it was fulfilled in phases. The first phase took place on what we call Easter Sunday, which was the day of Jesus’ resurrection. In John 20:19-22, we find the following:
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side [He demonstrated He was the same one they had seen crucified]. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
The twenty-second verse makes an important statement. The Greek word for Spirit, pneuma, also means “breath” or “wind.” This act of breathing on them was related to the words Jesus spoke: “He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy [breath: Holy Spirit, the breath of God]'” (author’s emphasis).
I believe this was one of the most critical and decisive phases in the entire working out of God’s purpose of redemption. What happened at this dramatic moment? First, at that moment, those first disciples entered into what I would call New Testament salvation. In Romans 10:9, Paul laid down the basic requirements for salvation:
That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.
John 20:19-22 was the first moment at which the disciples really believed God raised Jesus from the dead. Up to that time, they could not enter into salvation as it is presented in the New Testament. At that moment, when they confessed Jesus as their Lord and believed that God had raised Him from the dead, they were saved with New Testament salvation.
The second thing that took place was that the disciples were regenerated, or born again. They became new creations—each passed out of the old creation into the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) through the inbreathed breath of God. To understand this, we must look back at the description of the original creation of man in Genesis 2:7:
The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being [or a living soul].
The first creation of man took place as God breathed the Spirit of Life (the Breath of Life or the Holy Spirit) into that figure of clay that was on the ground. The inbreathed breath of God, the Holy Spirit, transformed that figure of clay into a living soul. The passage in John, however, speaks of the new creation described by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (NIV). There is a direct parallel between the first creation and the new creation.
In the new creation, Jesus is the resurrected Lord and Savior who has conquered sin, death, hell, and Satan. Having done this, He appeared to His disciples and breathed into them the breath of resurrection life. This was a new kind of life, one that had triumphed over all the forces of evil, death, and sin. Through that experience, the disciples passed out of the old order and entered into New Testament salvation, into the new creation in Christ, through the resurrection breath of life received from Jesus.
However, it is important to understand that even after this Easter Sunday experience, the total fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit had not yet come. After the Resurrection, Jesus said the following to the disciples in Luke 24:49:
Behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city [Jerusalem] until you are clothed with power from on high.
Even more explicitly, shortly before His ascension into heaven and nearly forty days after Resurrection Sunday, Jesus said to them,
For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
(Acts 1:5 NIV)
By this we see that Resurrection Sunday was not the total fulfillment of the promise. Almost all theologians and commentators on Scripture agree that the final, complete fulfillment took place on the Day of Pentecost, which is described in Acts 2:1-4:
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Pentecost was the actual manifestation and fulfillment of the promise. The Holy Spirit descended from heaven, in person, in the form of a mighty wind, filled each one of them individually, and gave each one a new and supernatural utterance in a language they had never learned.
At the end of this second chapter of Acts, Peter gave a theological explanation of what had taken place:
God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.
(Acts 2:32-33 NIV)
Again, all three persons of the Godhead are in this verse. Jesus the Son received the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured out the Holy Spirit on the waiting disciples in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. At that point, the final fulfillment of the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit took place. The Holy Spirit Himself was released from heaven by the Father and the Son together and descended upon the waiting disciples in the Upper Room in Jerusalem.
Notice that at this point, Jesus was not merely resurrected, but He was also exalted and glorified. Remember, too, that in John 7:39, the writer of the gospel had pointed out that the promise of the Holy Spirit could not be fulfilled until Jesus had been glorified.
We are confronted with two dramatic, wonderful Sundays. The first is Easter Sunday, where we have the resurrected Christ and the in breathed Spirit. The second is Pentecost Sunday, where we have the glorified Christ and the out poured Spirit. Remember, each are patterns for all believers, even today.
|Easter Sunday||The Resurrected Christ||The Inbreathed Spirit|
|Pentecost Sunday||The Glorified Christ||The Outpoured Spirit|
We will now summarize the permanent significance of the events we have just examined. On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came down to earth as a person. He is now the resident, personal representative of the Godhead on earth. It seems to be a law, which I cannot explain, that only one person of the Godhead can be resident on earth at any one given time. For some years, it was Jesus the Son. But when Jesus was leaving to return to heaven, He promised that another person would come in His place that would stay with us forever, not just for a few brief years. That promise was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost. Jesus the Son, as a person, had gone back to the Father in heaven. Then, from the Father and the Son together, the Holy Spirit came to take the place of Jesus.
Where does the Holy Spirit now live? There are two answers. First, He lives in the church, the corporate body of Christ. Paul asked the Corinthian believers the following:
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?
(1 Cor. 3:16 NIV)
Paul was talking here about the corporate temple of the Holy Spirit. Second, in 1 Corinthians 6:19, Paul said something even more dramatic. He revealed that not only is the corporate body of Christ the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, but it is God’s purpose that the body of each believer also be the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit:
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?
That is one of the most breathtaking statements found anywhere in the Bible! If we are believers in Jesus Christ, our physical bodies are to be the dwelling place of God the Holy Spirit.
OUR INDWELLING HELPER
what does it mean for us, practically, that the Holy Spirit has come to be our Paraclete? We will begin by looking again at the passage in John 14:16-18 where Jesus gave this specific promise:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor [Paraclete] to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. [You can see that this is a promise only for believers, not for the world.] I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
The word paraclete, derived from a Greek source, was simply transliterated into English. It literally means “someone who is called in alongside to help.” A Paraclete is someone who can do something for you that you cannot do for yourself. The same Greek word is used in 1 John 2:1:
My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
The word translated here as “Advocate” is the source word for paraclete. Our English word advocate is derived from Latin: ad, “to”; and vocata, “called”—”somebody called to or in.” In almost all languages derived from Latin, the word advocate is the word used to denote a lawyer. It means someone who speaks in our defense. We all know the role of an advocate, attorney, or lawyer in contemporary culture.
Scripture unfolds the beautiful truth that we have two Advocates. On earth, the Holy Spirit pleads our cause. The things we cannot say right, He says for us; the things we do not understand, He interprets for us. In heaven, Jesus is our Advocate with the Father; He pleads our cause. Just think, we have the two greatest Advocates in the universe. We have Jesus Christ, the Son, at the Father’s right hand, and we have the Holy Spirit on earth. With two such Advocates or Attorneys, how could we ever lose the case?
Let me go on and amplify what Jesus said about this Advocate, who is our Paraclete—our Attorney, Comforter, Counselor, and Helper. I will comment on some of the things that Jesus said in John 14:16-18, cited earlier.
“The Father…will give you another Counselor” (v. 16). You must understand the importance of that word “another,” as it indicates a person. Jesus said, “I’m a person. I’m going away. When I go, another person will come to be your Helper. I’ve been your Helper while I was here, but now I’m leaving. You’re not going to be left without a Helper, though. There’ll be another Helper that will come.”
He will stay with you forever (v. 16). Jesus said, “I’ve been with you three-and-a-half years. I’m leaving you, but don’t be heartbroken, because there is someone else coming in My place, and He’ll never leave you. He’ll be with you forever.”
“He lives with you and will be in you” (v. 17). There is importance in the phrase “in you.” This Advocate or Comforter is going to live in us. We will be His resident address.
“I will not leave you as orphans” (v. 18). By implication, if He had gone away and made no provision for them, the disciples would have been left like orphans, without anybody to care for them, help them, or explain things to them.
“I will come to you” (v. 18). This is very important. Christ came back to His disciples in the Holy Spirit. While He was on earth in His body, Jesus could only be in one place at one time. He could talk to Peter, John, or Mary Magdalene one at a time, but He could not talk to all three of them in different conversations at the same time. He was limited by time and space. Now, when He came back to His people in the Holy Spirit, He was free from the limitations of time and space and is so now. He can be in Australia, talking to a child of God in need there; He can be in the United States, anointing a preacher; He can be somewhere in the deserts or the jungles of Africa, strengthening or healing a missionary. He is not limited. He has come back, but is no longer subject to the limitations of time or space.
I want to dwell just a little longer on this theme of the exchange of persons—one person going, another person coming. In John 16:5-7, Jesus said the following:
Now I am going to him who sent me [the Father], yet none of you asks me, “Where are you going?” Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you [the Comforter]; but if I go, I will send him to you.
This is very clear language. “As long as I’m with you, in person, on earth,” Jesus said, “the Holy Spirit has to stay in heaven, as a person. But if I go away as a person, then in My place I’ll send another person, the Holy Spirit.” It is an exchange of divine persons. For a while, the Son, as a person, was on earth; then He went back to heaven with His ministry complete. In His place, the Holy Spirit (another divine person) came to complete the ministry that Jesus had begun.
Jesus said it is for our good that He was going away. The King James Version says, “It is expedient for you” (v. 7). This is an amazing statement. We are better off with Jesus in heaven and the Holy Spirit on earth than we would be with Jesus on earth and the Holy Spirit in heaven. Few people realize that. Christians are always saying, “If only I could have lived in the days when Jesus was on earth.” But Jesus said to His disciples, “You’re better off. When I’m in heaven and the Holy Spirit is on earth, you will have more then than you have now.”
Let me interpret this in the light of the experience of the first disciples themselves. Notice what happened immediately after the Holy Spirit came. There were three immediate results:
First, they understood the plan of God and the ministry of Jesus far better than they had ever understood it while Jesus was on earth. It is a remarkable fact they had been very slow and limited in their understanding, but the moment the Holy Spirit came, they had a totally different comprehension of the ministry and the message of Jesus.
Second, they became extremely bold. Even after the Resurrection, they still hid away behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. They were not willing to stand up to preach and proclaim the truth, nor were they equipped. The moment the Holy Spirit came, however, that changed. Peter boldly and straightforwardly told the Jewish people in Jerusalem the whole story of Jesus and laid at their door the guilt of His crucifixion.
Third, they had supernatural confirmations. The moment the Holy Spirit came, miracles began to take place. It was just like Jesus being back with them in person, for Jesus said, “When the Holy Spirit comes, I’ll come back in Him. I will be with you. I will not leave you as orphans.”
REVELATION OF GOD‘S WORD
The Holy Spirit helps us, comforts us, and meets our needs in very specific ways. The first way we will consider is the revelation of God’s Word. The Holy Spirit is the revelator and interpreter of the Word of God. In John 14:25-26, Jesus said to His disciples,
All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor [the Paraclete], the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
Two functions of the Holy Spirit that are mentioned in verse 26 are important: He is to remind, and He is to teach. He was to remind the disciples of all that Jesus had already taught them. I understand this to mean that the record of the apostles in the New Testament is not subject to the weaknesses of human memory but is inspired by the Holy Spirit. The disciples might not accurately have recalled some things, but whatever they needed to remember, the Holy Spirit Himself brought to their remembrance.
However, He did not merely take care of the past, He also took care of the future. He taught them everything they needed to learn. That is also true for us today. He is our present teacher here on earth. Jesus was the great teacher while He was on earth, but now He has handed over the task to the Holy Spirit, His personal representative. Whatever we need to know about the Word of God, the Holy Spirit is here to instruct us.
This placed the disciples on a level with the Old Testament prophets. Concerning the prophets, Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:21,
For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
The accuracy and the authority of the Old Testament prophets was that of the Holy Spirit Himself. He was responsible for what they said as He rested upon them. He inspired them and carried them along. But this is also true of the writings of the New Testament. Jesus made sure that the Holy Spirit would remind the disciples of all that He said and would teach them all that they still needed to know. The Holy Spirit is the true author of all Scripture, both Old and New Testaments. Paul stated this very clearly in 2 Timothy 3:16:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.
Other translations use the word “inspired” (RSV, NAS), but either “inspired” or “God-breathed” indicates the activity of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who breathed all Scripture through the human channels by which Scripture came.
God’s perfect provision for us causes my heart to rejoice. The Holy Spirit was the author of Scripture, and He is also our personal teacher of Scripture. Thus, the author Himself becomes the interpreter of the Book. Who could ever interpret a book better for you than the one who wrote it? I have written over twenty books myself. Sometimes I hear other people interpret my books, and often they do a good job, but I always think, “Well, you missed that” or “You didn’t get that quite right.” In this situation, the Holy Spirit, who is the author of Scripture, is also the interpreter. He misses nothing; He has it all right. If we can listen to Him and receive from Him, we will know what the Scripture really has to say.
The revealing of the Scripture was an immediate result on the Day of Pentecost. When the Holy Spirit fell, the unbelieving crowd said, “They’re drunk!” But Peter stood up and said the following:
These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel.”
(Acts 2:15-16 NIV)
Up to that time, Peter had no understanding of the prophecy of Joel. In fact, he had a very limited understanding even of the teaching of Jesus. But the moment the Holy Spirit came, the Bible made sense for him in a totally new way because the author was there to interpret. It was the same with the apostle Paul. He had been persecuting the church and rejecting the claims of Jesus. Acts 9:17 reads as follows:
Then Ananias went to the house [where Paul was] and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul [who later became Paul], he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
(Acts 9:17 NIV)
Immediately after that, Paul began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus was the Son of God, the very thing he had been denying. But the moment the Holy Spirit came in, he had a totally different understanding. It was like the transition from darkness to light. It was not something gradual, but almost an instant transformation because the Holy Spirit, the teacher and author of Scripture, was in Paul.
When speaking about the Holy Spirit as the interpreter and the revelator of the Word of God, we need to bear in mind that not only is the Bible the Word of God, but Jesus Himself is called the Word of God. In John 1:1, we read of Jesus,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Three times in that verse He is called “the Word.” John 1:14 states the following:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
The Bible, the Scripture, is the written Word of God, and Jesus is the personal Word of God. Of course, the marvelous thing is they are in total agreement.
Not only does the Holy Spirit reveal and interpret the written Word of God, but He also reveals and interprets the personal Word of God, Jesus. This is what Jesus said about the Holy Spirit:
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 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 bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.
(John 16:12-15 NIV)
Verse 12 tells us Jesus did not try to say it all because He trusted the Holy Spirit, and He knew the Holy Spirit was coming. Then He explained what the Holy Spirit would do when He came.
The Holy Spirit takes what belongs to Jesus and makes it known to us. He glorifies Jesus for us. He reveals Jesus in His glory, in His totality. Every aspect of the nature, character, and ministry of Jesus is unfolded to us by the Holy Spirit.
It is very interesting to note that once the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and the disciples on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, they never had any further doubts where Jesus was. They knew that He had arrived in glory at the Father’s right hand. The Holy Spirit had glorified Jesus to the disciples. He had taken the things of Christ—in the Scripture, out of their memories, and out of their contacts with Jesus—and He had revealed them to the disciples.
The Holy Spirit reveals and glorifies Jesus. He also administers the total wealth of the Father and the Son because all that the Father has, is given to the Son and all the Son has, the Holy Spirit administers. In other words, the total wealth of the Godhead is administered by the Holy Spirit. It is no wonder we need not be orphans when He is our administrator and all the wealth of God is at His disposal.
LIFTED ONTO A SUPERNATURAL PLANE
The next main result of the coming of the Holy Spirit is that we are lifted onto a supernatural plane of living. Two very interesting verses in Hebrews describe Christians by a New Testament standard:
Those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age.
(Heb. 6:4-5 NIV)
Here, five things are listed about the New Testament believers:
1.They have been “enlightened.”
2.They have “tasted the heavenly gift”—which I believe is the gift of eternal life in Jesus.
3.They have “shared in the Holy Spirit,” or been made partakers of the Holy Spirit.
4.They have “tasted the goodness of the word of God”—that is, God’s Word has become living and real to them.
5.They have “tasted… the powers of the coming age.”
All Christians believe that in the next age we will function in a totally different way We will be set free of many of the limitations of our physical bodies, because we will have a different kind of body and a totally different lifestyle. But many Christians do not realize that through the Holy Spirit we can taste a little of that lifestyle right now in this life. We can “[taste]…the powers of the coming age.” We can only taste them, not appropriate them in their fullness, but we can come to know a little bit of what the next life is going to be like even during this life.
Paul used a very interesting phrase in this connection. In Ephesians 1:13-14, he wrote the following to believers:
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
The word “deposit” is a fascinating word. The Holy Spirit is God’s deposit in us, right now, for the next age. I have made a study of the word used here. In Greek, it is arrabon, which is really a Hebrew word. Years ago, probably about 1946, when I was living in Jerusalem, I had a very interesting experience that beautifully illustrated for me the meaning of that word arrabon or “deposit.” My first wife and I went to the Old City to buy some material to make drapes for our new home. We saw the material that we wanted, inquired about the price (let us say it was one dollar a yard), and informed the merchant we needed fifty yards. So I told the man, “That’s what we want,” and he told me the price, fifty dollars. “Well,” I said to him, “I don’t have fifty dollars with me right now. Here’s ten dollars; that’s my deposit. Now the material is mine. You put it to one side. You’re not free to sell it to anybody else. I’ll come back with the rest of the money, and I’ll collect the drapes.” Well, that is the word arrabon.
The Holy Spirit is the Lord’s deposit in us. He makes a down payment of the life of the next age in us right now by giving the Holy Spirit. When we receive that down payment, we are like that drapery fabric. We are set aside, not to be sold to anybody else. It is the guarantee that He is coming back with the rest to complete the purchase. That is why Paul speaks about having a deposit “until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.” We already belong to Him but we have only received the down payment—the full payment is yet to come.
The Holy Spirit is the down payment of our life in God in the next age. This supernatural life extends to every area of our experience.
I want to quote a passage from my book The Spirit-filled Believer’s Handbook that emphasizes this. In this book, I wrote as follows:
If we study the New Testament with an open mind, we are compelled to acknowledge that the whole life and experience of the early Christians was permeated in every part by the supernatural. Supernatural experiences were not something incidental or additional; they were an integral part of their whole lives as Christians. Their praying was supernatural; their preaching was supernatural; they were supernaturally guided, supernaturally empowered, supernaturally transported, supernaturally protected.
Remove the supernatural from the book of Acts, and you are left with something that has no meaning or coherence. From the descent of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, and onwards, it is impossible to find a single chapter in which the record of the supernatural does not play an essential part.
In the account of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, in Acts 19:11, we find a most arresting and thought-provoking expression:
And God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul.
Consider the implications of that phrase “extraordinary miracles.” The Greek could be translated, somewhat freely, “miracles of a kind that do not happen every day.” Miracles were an everyday occurrence in the early church. Normally they would have caused no special surprise or comment. But the miracles granted here in Ephesus through the ministry of Paul were such that even the early church found them worthy of special record.
In how many churches today would we find occasion to use the phrase—”miracles of a kind that do not happen every day”? In how many churches today do miracles ever happen—let alone, happen every day?
One area in which the supernatural was particularly manifested in the lives of the early Christians was in the supernatural direction that they received from the Holy Spirit. In Acts 16, we read about Paul and his companions on his second missionary journey. They were in what we call Asia Minor today, and Scripture says they were “kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia….They tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus [or Jesus, through the Holy Spirit] would not allow them to [enter Bithynia]” (Acts 16:6-7 NIV). So they tried to go west, and the Holy Spirit would not let them. Then they tried to go northeast, and the Holy Spirit said, “No.” Acts 16:8-10 continues with the following:
So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas [that was northwest]. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them [in Macedonia].
That is a very significant incident, and it is our example of the supernatural intervention and guidance of the Holy Spirit. It would have been natural for them in that geographical situation to go either west into Asia or northeast into Bithynia. It was unnatural to pass those two areas, go northwest, and then cross over into the continent of Europe.
However, if we look back over the subsequent history of the church, we see that the continent of Europe played a unique role—first, in preserving the Gospel through the Dark Ages; and second, in becoming the main continent for many years to send forth the Word of God to other nations. God had a sovereign purpose that included many centuries ahead. Paul and his companions could never have discovered it by natural reasoning, but through the supernatural direction of the Holy Spirit, they walked right into the full purpose of God. All history has been affected by that supernatural guidance of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
That is just a single example out of many of the supernatural interventions of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the early Christians.
HELP IN PRAYER
The third vitally important way in which the Holy Spirit helps us is in our prayers. In Romans 8:14, Paul described our need of the Holy Spirit’s guidance to lead the Christian life:
For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
In order to become a Christian, you must be born of the Spirit of God. But in order to live like a Christian and come to maturity after you have been born again, you must be led continually by the Spirit of God. The form of the verb that Paul used there is the continuing present. “For all who are being [continually] led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” They are no longer little babies, but mature sons and daughters.
Further on in Romans, Paul applied this principle of being led by the Holy Spirit particularly to our prayer life. He emphasized the necessity of the guidance of the Holy Spirit to pray correctly.
And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself [the personality of the Holy Spirit is emphasized] intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
(Rom. 8:26-27 NAS)
Paul spoke here about a weakness that we all have. It is not a physical weakness, but a weakness of the mind and understanding. We do not know what to pray for, and we do not know how to pray.
I have often challenged congregations by asking people to raise their hands if they always knew what to pray for and how to pray for it. Never once has anybody dared to raise his hand on that challenge. I think we are all honest enough to acknowledge that when we want to pray, we often do not know what to pray for. Sometimes, even if we think we know what to pray for, we do not know how to pray for it. Paul called that “our weakness. ” But he told us that God sends the Holy Spirit to help us in that weakness, to know what to pray for and to know how to pray for it. In a certain sense, Paul’s language suggests that the Holy Spirit moves in and does the praying through us.
The key to effective praying is learning how to be so related to the Holy Spirit that we can submit to Him. Then we can let Him guide, direct, inspire, and strengthen, and many times actually pray through us.
The New Testament reveals many ways in which the Holy Spirit can help us, a few of which I will now outline.
The first way is referred to in those verses in Romans 8:26-27. Paul said, “The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” I would call that intercession, which is one of the high points of the Christian life. He spoke about “groanings too deep for words.” Our finite, limited minds do not have the words to pray what needs to be prayed. So one of the ways the Holy Spirit comes to our help is to pray through us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.
This is a very sacred experience, a spiritual travail that leads to spiritual birth. Isaiah 66:8 refers to this:
As soon as Zion travailed, she also brought forth her sons.
No real spiritual reproduction in the church can occur without spiritual travail in prayer. It is when Zion travails that she brings forth her sons.
Paul confirmed this in Galatians 4:19:
My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.
Paul had preached to those people, and they had been converted. But for them to become what they needed to be, Paul recognized that it would take more than preaching, it would take intercessory prayer. He described that intercessory prayer as being “in the pains of childbirth,” or “groanings too deep for words.”
A second way in which the Holy Spirit helps us in prayer is that He illuminates our minds. He does not actually pray through us in this way, but He shows us in our minds what we need to pray for and how we need to pray for it. There are two passages from the epistles that speak about the work of the Holy Spirit in our minds. In Romans, we read the following:
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
(Romans 12:2 NAS)
Only a renewed mind can find out God’s will, even in the matter of prayer. Ephesians 4:23 says the following:
That you be renewed in the spirit of your mind.
The renewing of our minds is done by the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit moves in and renews our minds, then we begin to understand the will of God, and we begin to know how to pray according to the will of God. This second way the Holy Spirit helps us is by renewing our minds, illuminating them, and revealing to us how to pray.
The third way in which the Holy Spirit helps us is that He puts the right words in our mouths, often unexpectedly. Whenever I refer to this, I always think of an incident with my first wife. We were in Denmark, which was her native country, at the end of October. We were leaving the next day to spend the whole month of November in Britain. I am British, so I know that November in Britain is a cold, gloomy, misty, foggy month. As we prayed on the day before we were to leave for Britain, I heard Lydia say, “Give us fine weather all the time we’re in Britain!” I almost fell out of the bed where we were sitting and praying.
Afterwards, when I asked her if she knew what she had prayed, Lydia replied, “No, I don’t remember!” That was sure proof to me it was the Holy Spirit.
“Well,” I said, “you prayed for God to give us fine weather all the time we’re in Britain, and you know what Britain is like in November.” She just shrugged her shoulders. We spent the whole month of November in Britain, and we had not one cold, miserable, wet day! It was like a good spring.
When we left at the end of November, I said to the people who saw us off at the airport, “Look out, because when we leave, the weather’s going to change!”
Sure enough, it did! That was a prayer that the Holy Spirit put in Lydia’s mouth. It was what the Lord wanted her to pray for at that time.
A fourth way the Holy Spirit helps us in prayer is one that is mentioned many times in the New Testament. He gives us a new, unknown language, one that the natural mind does not know. Some people today speak about this as a prayer language. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14:2,
For anyone who speaks in a tongue [an unknown language] does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.
And in verse 4 of that same chapter, Paul said the following:
He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself.
This kind of prayer serves three basic functions:
1.When we pray in an unknown tongue, we are not speaking to men, but to God. To me, that is a tremendous privilege in itself.
2.We are speaking things our minds do not understand. We are speaking mysteries or sharing God’s secrets.
3.As we do this, we are edifying ourselves, or building ourselves up.
Further on in 1 Corinthians 14:14, Paul said the following:
For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.
Here is a situation where the Holy Spirit does not illuminate the mind, but He simply gives us a new language and prays through us in that language. We must not use one form of prayer to the exclusion of the other. Paul said very clearly, “I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind” (v. 15 NIV). Both kinds of prayer are possible.
When we let the Holy Spirit in, yield to Him, and let Him work in us according to Scripture, there is a tremendous richness and variety in our prayer life. This is what God wants for each one of us.
LIFE AND HEALTH FOR OUR BODIES
The fourth function of the Holy Spirit as Paraclete is His impartation of supernatural life and health to our physical bodies. Jesus came to give us life, as He declared in John 10:10:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Two persons are set before us here, and we need to distinguish very clearly between them: the Life-giver, Jesus, and the life-taker, Satan. The Devil only comes into our lives to take life. He comes to steal the blessings and the provisions of God; he comes to kill us physically and destroy us eternally. Every one of us needs to realize that if we permit the Devil to have any place in our lives, that is what he is going to do—steal, kill, and destroy to the extent we permit him to do so.
On the other hand, Jesus came to do the exact opposite: He came that we may have life and that we may have it to the full. It is important for us to realize that this life Jesus came to give us is administered by the Holy Spirit. We only have His life in the proportion that we allow the Holy Spirit to do His work in us. If we resist or refuse the work of the Holy Spirit, then we cannot experience the fullness of divine life that Jesus came to bring us. We need to understand that it was the Holy Spirit who raised the dead body of Jesus from the tomb. Paul said the following about Jesus in Romans 1:4:
[Jesus] through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.
“The Spirit of holiness” is a Greek translation of the Hebrew phrase for the Holy Spirit. Though Paul was writing in Greek, he was thinking in Hebrew. So when Paul said, “through the Spirit of holiness,” it is the same as saying, “through the Holy Spirit, Jesus was manifested or declared to be the Son of God by the power that raised Him from the dead [that is, the power of the Holy Spirit].”
In previous sections, I pointed out that, in a certain sense, this was the climax of the redemptive process of God in this age: that God Himself, in the person of the Holy Spirit, should indwell our physical bodies and make them His temple or His dwelling place. In Romans 8:10-11, Paul said this:
But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.
The implication of the tenth verse is that when Christ comes in, when we are converted and regenerated, an old life ends, and a new life begins. The old, carnal life is terminated, and our spirits come alive with the life of God. Then Paul went on to say, in verse 11, what this means for our physical bodies. Very clearly, the same person, the same power, that raised the body of Jesus from the tomb is now dwelling in the body of each yielded believer and is imparting to each mortal body the same kind of life that He imparted to the mortal body of Jesus and the same kind of power that raised Him with an eternal body.
This process of imparting divine life to our bodies will not be consummated until the general resurrection from the dead. It is important to understand that we do not now have resurrection bodies, but what we do have is resurrection life in our mortal bodies. Paul further continued, in several different passages, that resurrection life in our mortal bodies can take care of all the physical needs of our bodies until the time that God separates spirit from body and calls us home.
We must understand how our bodies were formed in the first place because it all relates together. Genesis 2:7 states,
The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath [or the Spirit] of life, and the man became a living being [or a living soul].
What was it that produced man’s physical body? It was the inbreathed Spirit of God that transformed a clay form into a living human being with all the miracles and marvels of a functioning human body. The Holy Spirit originally brought the physical body into being. Logically, it follows that He’s the one to sustain it. This is so logical, if only Christians can see it. Divine healing and divine health are logical in the light of Scripture.
For instance, if your watch goes wrong, you do not take your watch to the boot maker; you take your watch to the watchmaker. Now, apply that same reasoning: if your body goes wrong, where do you take your body? In my opinion, the logical thing to do is to take it to the body maker, and that is the Holy Spirit.
Here in the United States, we are familiar with the little phrase “Body by Fisher” on the chassis or body of many of our most common cars. When I look at a fellow Christian, I say, “Body by the Holy Spirit.” This is who gave him his body, who sustains his body, and who gives power to his body.
Paul’s testimony is impressive. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-25, he said the following:
I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea.
It is almost incredible that a man could go through all that and be so active, so healthy, and so courageous. What was the power that sustained Paul in all that? The power of the Holy Spirit. This is the account of the stoning of Paul in Lystra:
Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. [And it takes a lot of stones to make a man even appear dead.] But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.
(Acts 14:19-20 NIV)
What a man! I have heard some people suggest that Paul was a walking invalid who went around sick most of the time. My comment on that is, “If Paul was an invalid, God give us a lot more invalids like Paul!”
We have looked briefly at the remarkable record of the physical endurance and resilience of the apostle Paul. We will now look at his secret. What does he say about this? In 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, Paul related the following:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay [“this treasure” is the indwelling Spirit of God] to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
Verses 7 and 8 tell us we are not different kinds of persons in ourselves, but we have a different kind of power in us. Things that would crush other men need not crush us because we have a power in us that makes us resilient.
We find a beautiful contrast in verse 10. We are to reckon ourselves dead with Jesus. As we do, then His life is manifested in our physical bodies. It is very clear that it is not in the next age, but in this age that the supernatural, indwelling, resurrection life of Jesus in the Holy Spirit is to be manifested in our physical bodies.
The last words of verse 11 are significant: “So that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.” This is not just a secret, indwelling presence that no one can see; it is a presence that works such results in our physical bodies that it is evident to everybody. The resurrection life of Jesus is revealed in our mortal bodies.
Verse 12 tells us that when we receive the sentence of death in ourselves and come to the end of our own physical strength and abilities, then a new kind of life works through us to others.
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.
(v. 16 NAS)
The outward man decays, but there is a life in the inner man that is “renewed day by day.” The inner, supernatural, miraculous life of God takes care of the needs of the outer man for each of us.
OUTPOURING OF DIVINE LOVE
the greatest and most wonderful of all the blessings the Holy Spirit offers us is the outpouring of God’s divine love in our hearts. Romans 5:1-5 says the following:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
The climax comes in the fifth verse: “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
Paul outlined some stages of spiritual progression in those five verses, which I would like to go through very briefly:
1.We have peace with God.
2.We have access into God’s grace through faith.
3.We rejoice in hope of God’s glory, the hope of something in the future.
4.We rejoice also in sufferings, because of the results sufferings produce in us when we rightly receive them.
Paul then listed three successive results of suffering, rightly endured: the first, perseverance; the second, proven character; and the third, hope.
Then we come to the climax: God’s love is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Here, the word for “love” is the Greek word agape, which in the New Testament is normally, but not invariably, restricted to God’s own love. Usually, agape love is not humanly achievable except by the Holy Spirit. In most cases, we can never produce agape in our natural man.
Further in the fifth chapter, Paul defined the nature of agape. He explained how it was manifested in God and in Christ:
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own [agape] love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
(vv. 6-8 NIV)
When Christ died for us, according to Paul, there were three words that described us: “powerless,” “ungodly,” and “sinners.” It is agape love that is self-giving and does not lay down any prior conditions. It is not a love that says you must be good, or do this or that. It is freely given out, even to the most undeserving, the most helpless, and the most unworthy.
Now we will trace in the New Testament the various phases in which agape love is produced in us. First, it is the product of the new birth. In 1 Peter 1:22-23, we read the following:
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
The possibility of loving with agape love originates with the new birth—the new birth of the eternal, incorruptible seed of God’s Word that produces in us a new kind of life. Agape love is the very nature of that new life. First John 4:7-8 says the following:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
You can see that this kind of love is the mark of the new birth. A person who has been born again has it; a person who has not been born again cannot have it.
Paul described the next phase of this process of imparting divine love to us:
And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
(Rom. 5:5 NIV)
After the new birth, in that new nature that is produced by the new birth, the Holy Spirit pours out the totality of God’s love into our hearts. We are immersed in love. We are brought in contact with an inexhaustible supply—the total love of God has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. I want to emphasize that it is something divine, inexhaustible, and supernatural—something that only the Holy Spirit can do. Compare what Jesus said in John 7:37-39:
On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.
You can see the contrast. First, we have a thirsty man who does not have enough for himself. But when the Holy Spirit comes in, that thirsty man becomes a channel for “streams of living water.” That is the love of God poured out into our hearts. It is not human love; it is not just a portion of God’s love. It is the totality of God’s love, and we are simply immersed in it. The whole, endless, infinite love of God has a channel to flow through our lives by the Holy Spirit. A thirsty man becomes a channel of streams of living water.
We will now look at the famous Love Chapter written by Paul and found in 1 Corinthians. At the end of chapter 12, he said, “I show you a still more excellent way” (v. 31 NAS). That “still more excellent way” is unfolded in the opening verses of chapter 13:
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love [agape], I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
(1 Cor. 13:1-3 NAS)
It is important to see that all the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit are intended to be channels or instruments of divine love. If we do not use those gifts and make them available to the love of God, we frustrate God’s purposes. We may have all the other gifts, but we are simply left like a “noisy gong” or a “clanging cymbal.” We are nothing, and we have nothing without divine love.
In verse 1, Paul said: “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” When the Holy Spirit comes in, He comes into a heart that has been purified by faith and is turned toward God. Later on, it is possible to dry up, miss God’s purpose, or misuse what God has made available to us. In that case, it happens as Paul said: “I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” In effect, he said, “I wasn’t that way when I received, but through missing the purpose, I have become like that, and I frustrated God’s purpose.”
Compare that with what Paul said in 1 Timothy 1:5-6:
The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these.
The goal of all Christian ministry is love. The purpose of God for the Christian is the consistent expression of divine love.
I will sum up the three phases in this process of imparting God’s love to us:
•The first phase is the new birth. When we are born again, we become capable of that kind of love.
•The second is the outpouring of the totality of God’s love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us. The inexhaustible resources of God are made available to us.
•Third, the expression of that love is worked out in daily living through discipline and character training. This is when the love that comes from God is made available to our fellow human beings through us.
The first time I saw Niagara Falls, I equated that tremendous quantity of water to the love of God being poured out. Then I thought to myself, “Nevertheless, its real purpose is not fulfilled merely in the outpouring. Only when that power is channeled and used to bring light, heat, and power to the inhabitants of many of the major cities of the North American continent is the purpose achieved.”
That is how it is with us. We receive God’s love when we are born again; it is poured out over us by the Holy Spirit; but it only becomes available to our fellow human beings as it is channeled through our lives in discipline and training.
HOW TO OPEN UP TO THE HOLY SPIRIT
How can we open up to the Holy Spirit and receive Him in His fullness, and through Him receive all the blessings promised? We will look at a number of Scriptures that state the conditions we need to satisfy in order to receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit. God does require us to fulfill a number of specific essentials.
REPENT AND BE BAPTIZED
Acts 2:37-38 is the end of Peter’s talk on the Day of Pentecost, and it gives the response of the people to his message:
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” [That was a specific question, and God’s Word gives a specific answer.] Peter replied, “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.”
There we have the promise: “You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” We also have two conditions clearly stated: “Repent and be baptized.” To repent means to turn sincerely from all sinfulness and rebellion and submit ourselves without reservation to God and to His requirements. To be baptized is to go through an ordinance or a sacrament by which each of us is personally and visibly identified with Jesus Christ to the world in His death, burial, and resurrection. So there are two basic, primary requirements for receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit: we must repent, and we must be baptized.
In Luke 11:9-13, Jesus said the following:
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
Here is a simple condition but a very important one. Jesus said the Father will give the Holy Spirit to His children if we ask Him for the Holy Spirit. I have heard Christians say, “I don’t need to ask for the Holy Spirit.” I must tell you that is not scriptural. Jesus was speaking to His disciples and He said, “Your Father will give you the Holy Spirit if you ask for it.” Elsewhere, Jesus said He would go to the Father and ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit to His disciples. My feeling is that if Jesus had to ask the Father, it will not do us any harm to ask as well. This, then, is the third condition: to ask.
In John 7:37-39, we have three more simple conditions stated:
On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
The author of the gospel makes it very clear that in this passage, Jesus was talking about believers receiving the Holy Spirit. With that in mind, let us look at what Jesus said. “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” These are three simple but practical requirements.
The first is we must be thirsty. God does not force His blessings on people who feel they do not need them. Many people never receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit because they are not really thirsty. If you think you have all you need already, why should God bother you with more? Very probably, you are not making the best use of what you already have. You would be under greater condemnation if God gave you more.
That is an essential condition—to be thirsty. To be thirsty means you have recognized you need more than you already have. As a matter of fact, thirst is one of the strongest desires in the human body. When a person is really thirsty, they do not care about eating or anything else. All they want is a drink. I spent three years in deserts in North Africa, and I have a pretty good picture of what it means to be thirsty. When a man is thirsty, he does not bargain or talk or discuss; he just goes to where the water is. That is what Jesus was saying: you must be thirsty.
COME TO JESUS
Then, if you are thirsty, He said, “Come to me.” So, the second condition is to come to Jesus. Jesus is the Baptizer in the Holy Spirit. If you want the baptism, you must come to the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit. No human being baptizes in the Holy Spirit, only Jesus.
Then He said you must drink. This is so simple some people leave it out. But drinking is receiving something within you by a decision of your will and a physical response. It is also part of receiving the Holy Spirit. Thirsting, coming to Jesus, and drinking are all essential. Just being totally passive and saying, “Well, if God wants to do it, let Him do it!” is not drinking. Drinking is actively receiving within you.
We want to consider two more relevant facts concerning our physical bodies that were touched on in earlier sections. First, our bodies are destined by God to be the temples of the Holy Spirit. First Corinthians 6:19 says the following:
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?
Second, we are required to offer or yield to God the parts of our bodies as instruments for His service. This is our responsibility. Romans 6:13 states the following:
Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him [God] as instruments of righteousness.
We have a responsibility straight from the Scripture to offer, yield, or dedicate the various members of our physical bodies to God for His service. One member particularly needs God’s control: the tongue. James said very simply in his epistle:
But no man can tame [or control] the tongue.
(James 3:8 NIV)
We need help from God to control all the members of our bodies, but we need special help with our tongues. When the Holy Spirit comes in His fullness, the first member that He affects, takes control of, and utilizes for God’s glory is the tongue. You will find, if you care to check, that every time the New Testament speaks of people being filled with the Holy Spirit or full of the Holy Spirit, the first immediate result is some utterance that comes out of their mouths. They speak, they prophesy, they praise, they sing, they speak in tongues—but the mouth is always engaged. When you come to Jesus and drink, the final result will be an overflow, and it will be out of your mouth. This principle is stated by Jesus very clearly in Matthew 12:34: “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (NIV).
When your heart is filled to overflowing, the overflow will take place through your mouth in speech. God wants you not to have just enough, He wants you to have an overflow. Remember, He said, “Out of his inner being will flow rivers of living water.” (See John 7:38.) That is the ultimate purpose of God.
The following are the seven conditions that I have found in the Bible for receiving the fullness of the Holy Spirit:
5.Come to Jesus; He’s the baptizer.
6.Drink—receive within yourself.
7.Present your body as a temple for the Holy Spirit and your members as instruments of righteousness.
Perhaps you are left wondering how you can do all this. I want to help you by sharing a pattern prayer that includes the things I have been explaining to you. Read it over, and, if it is your prayer, pray it aloud to the Lord.
I’m thirsty for the fullness of Your Holy Spirit. I present my body to You as a temple and my members as instruments of righteousness, especially my tongue, the member I cannot tame. Fill me, I pray, and let Your Holy Spirit flow through my lips in rivers of praise and worship. Amen.
If you prayed that prayer sincerely, it has been heard, and the results are on the way. You may be quite surprised at the fullness of what you will receive.
GOD’S MEDICINE BOTTLE
My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings. let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart. for they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.
—Proverbs 4:20-22 (KJV)
TAKE AS DIRECTED
From my own experience, I will share with you how I discovered this wonderful medicine bottle of God. I learned about this great blessing during the early years of World War II.
Because I am British, I served in the British Army as a medical orderly (what the Americans call a hospital attendant) with the British Medical Services for five-and-a-half years during World War IL For the first three years of duty, I was stationed in the deserts of North Africa: first in Egypt, then in Libya, and finally in the Sudan.
In the desert, the two things that we were exposed to more than anything else were sand and sun. I spent nearly one entire year in the desert without ever seeing a paved road. We traveled in sand, we slept in sand, and very often we had the impression that we were eating sand. We were exposed to it day and night. Combined with the sun, it had a very harmful effect on certain people whose skin could not protect them adequately from that kind of exposure. I was one of them. It manifested itself primarily in the condition of my feet and my hands, where the skin broke down. I became incapacitated in many ways.
The officer in command of my particular unit struggled to keep me from being admitted to the hospital because he knew if I were admitted, he would lose me in the unit. Consequently, I spent several months hobbling around trying to do my military duties. However, in the end he had to let me go into the hospital. I went to three or four different military medical facilities, and I was in the hospital for a year. During that time, I met soldiers there who’d been two years in the Middle East and spent eighteen months in the hospital with similar conditions.
The doctors gave many elaborate diagnoses of my problem. Each name tended to be a little longer than the previous one. Eventually, my condition was diagnosed simply as chronic eczema. I received the best medical treatment available, but it really didn’t help me.
I saw many other soldiers with similar conditions who also were not helped. Those with really serious problems, burns and so on, were usually shipped to South Africa. However, my condition wasn’t considered to be that serious, and my services to the British Army were not so valuable that they were going to waste a passage on a ship to South Africa for me. So I just lay there in bed, day after day, wondering what my future would be. I’ll tell you, when you spend an entire year in the hospital, it seems like an eternity!
Shortly before this time, I had come into a real personal relationship with the Lord, had been born again and received the filling of the Holy Spirit. But I was very ignorant about God’s Word then, not having had any background in biblical instruction. I had a Bible and really had nowhere else to turn for help but to God and His Word.
In desperation, I began to search the Scriptures to see what they could tell me about my physical condition. I didn’t have any theories about healing; I just knew I needed it. I had the Bible and plenty of time to read, since there was very little else to do. So I searched through the Bible for something that would show me if I could really trust God for the healing of my body.
One day I came across some verses in the book of Proverbs that I learned to call “God’s Medicine Bottle.” I’m quoting from the King James Version, which was the version that I was reading in those days and which is extremely vivid and forceful:
My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings. Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart. For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.
It was that last phrase, “health to all their flesh,” that caught my attention. I understood that “all their flesh” meant the total physical body, which is the way more modern versions translate it. I reasoned with myself, “Health! If I have health in my whole body, then I have no room anywhere for sickness. That is what God is promising me.”
Then I happened to look in the margin of my Bible and saw that the alternative translation for the word health was the word medicine. That seemed to be even more appropriate for my condition. God was promising me something that would be medicine that would bring health to all my flesh. I thought to myself, “That’s precisely what I need.” So I went back and read those words over and over again. I saw that, in essence, God’s offer was being made to me through His Word.
Verse 20 says, “Attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings.” Then verse 22 says, “For they [that’s God’s words and God’s sayings] are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.” So somehow life and health are in the words and the sayings of God. I didn’t know how that could be, but I knew God was promising it.
When I saw the phrase, “those that find them,” I realized this process was more than just reading the Bible. It was reading the Bible in such a way as to find out how to receive what God was offering.
All the medical attention that was available in those conditions had not helped me. So I made a decision, a very naive decision in a way. I decided I was going to take God’s Word as my medicine. That was a very crucial point in my life in many ways. When I made that decision, the Lord Himself spoke to me. Not audibly, but nevertheless very clearly, I heard Him say, “When the doctor gives a person medicine, the directions for taking it are on the bottle.” Then He instructed, “This is My medicine I’m giving you. The directions are on the bottle. You better study them.”
God reminded me that a doctor doesn’t promise any benefit from the medicine he recommends unless it is taken according to the directions. Being a medical orderly, I was very aware of that.
I then decided to study the directions on the bottle. Very quickly I saw that there are four specific instructions for taking God’s Word as medicine for the physical body. These are His directions:
1.Attend to my words.
2.Incline thine ear unto my sayings.
3.Let them not depart from thine eyes.
4.Keep them in the midst of thine heart.
I realized that if I were going to receive the benefits I needed from the medicine, I had to comply with these four guidelines.
I cannot go into detail about all that followed, but I began to bow my head over the Bible three times every day after meals, because that is how people normally take medicine. I said, “God, You have said that these words of Yours will be medicine to all my flesh, and I’m taking them as my medicine now, in the name of Jesus.” Within a few months, God’s medicine, taken that way, achieved the result God promised. I was totally healthy in every area of my body.
A good many years ago, I recorded this experience on a tape. Just recently, in London, England, I met a young man from Pakistan who told me that he’d become a Christian and that he had suffered for more than twenty years from eczema. One day he heard my tape and decided to do what I had done. In his case, he was completely healed within two or three days. So that is an up-to-date testimony that the medicine still does what it claims to do.
PAY CLOSE ATTENTION
I now want to share with you the lessons I learned about the directions that are on God’s medicine bottle and how to apply them. The first of these four instructions is, “Attend to my words.” We need to understand that when God speaks to us, He requires our undivided attention. If Almighty God is willing to speak to us at all, surely any sense of propriety would indicate that we need to listen to God with our full and respectful attention. Sadly, that’s not really the attitude of many people today.
Because of the tremendous proliferation of the media—radio, television, and so on—and because of various factors in our contemporary culture, we have almost cultivated the practice of listening to two different things at one time. We suffer from a disease that could be called divided attention. I’m amazed when I go into a home and see teenagers doing their homework while watching television at the same time. They’re not giving full attention to either one or the other.
In many places now, we have what is called background music. We carry on a conversation, but at the same time, with one ear we’re listening to the music in the background. I have to say that for me, personally, this is intensely frustrating. I’m the kind of person who desires to concentrate on something without dissipating my attention. I think that’s a characteristic God has conditioned in me that I am not willing to relinquish. If I’m having a conversation, I want to listen to the person who is talking. If I’m listening to music, then I want to listen to the music. I love music. When I listen to it, I listen to it with my full attention.
But you see, all through the Bible, the primary key to healing from is hearing. Let me say that simply: The key to biblical healing is hearing. It’s what we listen to and how we listen that are so essential. Jesus said to His disciples, “Take heed what you hear” (Mark 4:24 NKJV). He also said, “Take heed how you hear” (Luke 8:18 NKJV). We have to put the two together. It’s what we listen to and how we listen to it.
Another passage that relates to healing is found in the Old Testament and brings out the same emphasis. In Exodus, the Lord told Israel, through Moses,
If you diligently heed the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the LORD who heals you.
(Exod. 15:26 NKJV)
Notice that final statement. It goes right along with the medicine bottle instructions: “I provide the medicine, and I am your Physician.” In modern Hebrew that’s exactly how that word would be translated: “I am the Lord, your Doctor.” God says to His people, “I’m willing to be your Doctor, the Doctor of your physical body. However, there are conditions.” He begins with an if.
The first condition, the basic one, is: “If you diligently heed the voice of the LORD your God.” You see, what we listen to is very important. The Hebrew word that is translated “diligently heed” is a repetition of the verb “to listen.” It goes something like this: “If you [listen listeningly to] the voice of the LORD your God.” The complete emphasis is on listening.
When I was seeking healing for myself I came across this verse in conjunction with Proverbs 4:20-22. I asked myself, “What does it mean to listen listeningly?”
God gave me an answer to my question. He said, “You’ve got two ears, a right ear and a left one; to listen listeningly means to listen to Me with both ears, with your right ear and with your left. Don’t listen to Me with your right ear and something else with your left because the result of that will be confusion.”
The emphasis is on attending to God, listening for Him, giving God your undivided attention. That is the primary instruction on God’s Medicine Bottle. It matters what we hear and how we hear. This is not only the key to being healed, it’s also the key to receiving faith. Of course, they go very closely together. It’s faith that enables us to receive the healing that God has provided and to benefit from the medicine.
One of my favorite Scriptures, which was also made real to me during this long period in the hospital, is the following:
So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
(Rom. 10:17 KJV)
Lying there in that hospital bed, I was continually saying to myself, “I know if I had faith, God would heal me.” But then I would say immediately after that, “But then, I don’t have any faith.” When I repeatedly told myself that I didn’t have faith, I found myself in what John Bunyan described in The Pilgrim’s Progress as the “Slough of Despond,” a dark, lonely valley of despair.
One day, as I was reading my Bible, my eyes fell on Romans 10:17: “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” There were two words that leaped out from the page at me: “faith cometh.” In other words, you don’t need to despair. Maybe you don’t have faith, but faith comes. If you don’t have it, you can get it.
Of course, I looked to see how faith comes. The Word says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (NKJV). Again, just as in Proverbs 4:20-22, I was directed right back to the Word of God. As I began to analyze that verse, I saw that we start with the Word of God. That’s the beginning. We listen to the Word of God carefully, and, out of that listening, there comes what the Bible calls “hearing,” the ability to hear God. Then out of hearing, faith develops.
It’s the Word of God that, when we first attend to it, produces hearing. As we continue hearing, or being focused on God’s voice, faith develops out of that hearing.
In a sense, everything depends on how we approach the Word of God. Do we approach it with undivided attention? Do we listen with both ears? Are we focused on the Word of God? Do we get ourselves into a condition, both spiritually and mentally, which the Bible calls hearing, where we are truly able to hear what God is saying to us?
I’m sure many people read the Bible but never hear God. They don’t hear God because their minds are occupied with other things. They’re wondering how they are going to pay the rent, or what the weather is going to be like, or they’re concerned with the political situation. There are other forces at work in their minds. Consequently, they never develop the ability to hear God.
We have to develop hearing, and out of hearing, faith develops. God’s Word itself and the right attitude toward God’s Word produce hearing. When we are able to hear, then faith comes. We’re always directed back to the Word of God and how we are to receive it.
Thus, the first instruction on God’s Medicine Bottle is, “Attend to my words.”
BEND YOUR EAR
Now I’m going to explain the second of the instructions God has given for taking His medicine: “Incline thine ear.” The word incline is slightly Old English, so we need to make sure that we understand precisely what it means. “To incline” is to bend down, and “an incline” is a hill that slopes. So “inclining your ear” is bending your ear down.
A fact of the human body is that you cannot bend your ear without bending your head down. In inclining your ear, you are actually inclining your head. What does that express? It’s an attitude indicating humility and teachableness. I’ll illustrate it from experience.
As I was studying the Bible in the hospital, seeking desperately for the answer to my problem, I read many promises of healing, blessing, and prosperity. But my attitude was conditioned by my background, which is probably true of all of us.
My background was in a segment of the Christian church where Christianity was not associated with being happy—in fact, very much the opposite. I had early in life formed the conclusion that if I were going to be a Christian, I would have to be prepared to be miserable. I had also decided pretty early that I wasn’t prepared to be miserable and, therefore, I wasn’t going to be a Christian. It was only a sovereign intervention of God in my life that changed me, but I still carried a lot of these old concepts with me.
When I found these repeated promises in the Bible of healing, health, strength, long life, prosperity, and abundance, I kept shaking my head—not inclining my head, but shaking my head—and saying, “This couldn’t be.
That’s too good to be true! I can’t believe that religion would be like that!” I was reacting this way to one of these statements in the Psalms where it says, “[God] forgiveth all thine iniquities; [He] healeth all thy diseases… so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Ps. 103:3, 5 KJV) I told myself, “You know, that’s impossible. God couldn’t be like that. I mean, we know we have to anticipate misery being Christians.”
As I was responding like that inwardly, God spoke to me so clearly, not audibly, but just as clearly as if someone were actually speaking. He said, “Now tell Me, who is the pupil and who is the teacher?” I thought it over for a moment and replied, “Lord, You’re the Teacher, and I’m the pupil.” Then He responded, “Well, would you mind letting Me teach you?” I saw then that I wasn’t letting God teach me at all. I had my own preconceptions. If He said something different in His Word, I really wasn’t capable of hearing it because my mind was blocked by these set ideas. God in essence was saying, “Incline your ear, give up your prejudices, bend that stiff neck of yours, and let Me tell you how good I am and how wonderful is the provision I’ve made for you. Don’t measure Me by human standards because I’m God. I’m almighty and gracious, a faithful and merciful God.”
This brings out a very important principle about God’s Word. God’s Word works in us only insofar as we receive it. If we don’t receive it, it doesn’t do us any good. In a very powerful passage, James said, when he was speaking about God,
Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth [notice, our becoming Christians is due to the Word: God begat us with the word of truth], that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath [note that: a wise man is swift to hear, but slow to speak]…. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
(James 1:18-19, 21 KJV)
God’s Word can save you, it can heal you, and it can bless you in innumerable ways, but only if you receive it with meekness.
One of the things that we have to lay aside is “naughtiness.” We usually associate naughtiness with children. What is a naughty child? One of the marks of a naughty child is answering back when he’s taught or reproved. God says, “Don’t answer Me back. When I tell you something, don’t argue with Me. Don’t tell Me you think it can’t be true or that it’s impossible or that I couldn’t mean that. Let Me teach you.” That is the essence of the inclined ear. It means that we come to God and we say, “God, You’re the Teacher; I’m the pupil. I’m willing to let You teach me. I bow down my ear and listen.”
In this matter of inclining the ear, we have to come face-to-face with the fact that most of us have mental barriers when we begin to read the Bible. They’re due, in many cases, to our backgrounds. Many of us have had some kind of denominational affiliation in the past. We may still be active members of some particular denomination. I am not opposed to denominations, but I want to suggest to you that every denomination has its weak points and its strong points. It has areas in which it has been faithful to the truth, and it has areas in which it has not been faithful to the truth. If we measure God from our own denominational backgrounds, if we judge the Scriptures by what some church or some denomination teaches, we will exclude from our minds much of the truth that God wants us to receive and that can bless and help us.
For instance, some churches teach that the age of miracles is past. I have never been able to find any basis for that statement in Scripture. I can think of dozens of Scriptures that indicate the exact opposite. But if you approach the Bible with the attitude that the age of miracles is past, then when God promises you a miracle, you probably can’t hear Him or receive it.
Some Christian groups suggest that in order to be holy, you have to be poor. Being anything but poor is considered in some way almost sinful. Well, if it’s God’s purpose to bless you with material prosperity in order for you to help build His kingdom, as He states many times in Scripture, it can be His purpose. But if you have the attitude that you must be poor, you won’t be able to receive the blessing of prosperity that God is offering you on the basis of Scripture. There’s a Scripture that I think most of us really need to take to heart:
Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.
(3 John 2 KJV)
I remember when I started to read that verse, it knocked me over. My old prejudices and preconceptions rose up. I thought, “That’s impossible. It can’t mean what it says.” But you see, God said, “Incline your ear. Don’t come at Me with your arguments, your prejudices, your preconceptions. Bend that stiff neck of yours and let Me teach you.”
That’s an essential requirement for receiving healing through the Word of God. By laying down our preconceptions and prejudices, bending our stiff necks, and opening our ears, we become able to listen carefully to what God says and not reject it because it doesn’t agree with something we thought God ought to have said.
God is a lot bigger than any denomination. He’s a lot bigger than our understandings. He’s a lot bigger than all of our prejudices. Don’t make God so small that He can’t help you. Incline your ear and let Him tell you how much He’s willing to do for you.
DON’T LET THEM OUT OF YOUR SIGHT
I have dealt with the first two directions on God’s Medicine Bottle: “Attend to my words” and “Incline thine ear.” So logically, I’m moving on to the third instruction: “Let them not depart from thine eyes.” The word “them” refers to God’s words and God’s sayings.
The key thought in this directive could be summed up in the word focus. One of the marvelous things about human eyes, which is not true of certain other animals or creatures, is that we have two eyes, but by focusing we can form one image. Of course, that is when our eyesight is healthy and operating the way God intended. Even with good eyesight, incorrect focus can produce blurred vision. I believe that’s the problem with many people in the spiritual realm. They haven’t yet learned to focus their spiritual eyesight, so their vision of spiritual things is blurred.
I think most people have the impression that the spiritual world is kind of misty, half real, vague, unformed. I know that was my impression of religion before I came to know the Lord in a personal way. I thought of religion as a kind of mist that hung around in old church buildings. I formulated that if I were very good, then perhaps the mist would settle on my head, but it never did. So after a while, I just decided that I wasn’t interested in that, and I turned elsewhere to philosophy. But the fact remains that unless we can focus our spiritual eyes, we will always have a blurred vision of spiritual reality. Look at the words of Jesus in dealing with spiritual vision:
The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. (Luke 11:34 KJV)
Here Jesus is speaking about something that affects the whole body. Instantly, it reminds me of the statement in Proverbs 4 about God’s words being health to the whole body. But here Jesus is dealing with the way we use our eyes. “When thine eye is single”—I think that means, first and foremost, that we form a single image or focus. It means we’re not looking in different directions with our two eyes, but they are focused to make one image. Then Jesus says the result will be manifested in the whole body: “thy whole body also is full of light.”
I believe a body that is full of light does not have room for sickness. I believe light and darkness are mutually exclusive. Sickness is from darkness. Health is from light:
But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings.
(Mal. 4:2 KJV)
The sun, in the natural, is the source of light. The two products of light, when the Sun arises, are righteousness and healing. They are the works of light. The opposite are the works of darkness. The opposite of righteousness is sin; the opposite of healing is sickness. They are works of darkness, but righteousness and healing are works of light. Jesus is saying, “If your eye is singly focused, your whole body will be filled with light, with righteousness, with health.” It all depends on having a single eye.
The Greek word that has been translated as single is a word that has various meanings, which I rather carefully checked in two Greek lexicons before I finished preparing this. Two of the main meanings are “simple” and “sincere,” which I think probably bring out the point. If your eye is simple or sincere, if you just see things the way they are written, then you are not too clever or too philosophical. You don’t know too many different ways of explaining the text away; you just take it as meaning what it says.
I previously explained that the second direction, “Incline thine ear,” means bow down your stiff neck, be willing to hear. There are certain normal barriers, and I have described two of them as prejudice and preconception. We think we already know what God ought to have said, so we are not willing to listen.
This third instruction speaks about simplicity or sincerity. I would suggest that the barriers to simplicity and sincerity are rationalization and sophistication. I become wary when I hear preachers quoting too many worldly experts, especially if they are trying to authenticate the Bible. I do not believe that the Bible needs to be authenticated by worldly experts. In the end, that doesn’t build people’s faith.
Sooner or later, as I said earlier, faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Rom. 10:17), and anything that distracts our attention too long from God’s Word is not ultimately going to build our faith. We have to read the Bible with that single eye of simplicity and sincerity that says, “This is what God says, this is what He means, and I believe it the way it is written.”
I think back to my own experience in hospital. There I was, a professor of philosophy with a knowledge of Latin and Greek, able to quote many long and learned books. As sick as I was, I was offered through God’s Word a very simple, unsophisticated way of getting healed: taking God’s Word as my medicine. Now, to a philosophic mind, that is pure nonsense! It is just ridiculous! You dismiss it. But, you see, I was sick, and philosophy hadn’t healed me. So I was really faced with two clear alternatives: I could be clever and stay sick, or I could be simple and get healed. One thing I have always been glad about ever since—I became simple enough to get healed.
That brings out this point: If your eye is simple, if you’re sincere, if you are not too profound, if you don’t know too many arguments, if you can’t quote all the theologians, then you have a much better chance to reach God. I am sorry to say it, but experience over many years has convinced me of that. Theology normally does not help people’s faith.
Let me quote two passages from the writings of Paul to conclude this thought. Note that we are talking about a kind of simplicity that, in the eyes of the world, is foolish. Paul wrote the following on this subject:
The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
(1 Cor. 1:25 KJV)
He is speaking primarily about the cross. The cross was the weakest and most foolish thing that you could conceive of in the culture of that time, but out of the weakness of the cross comes the almightiness of God. Out of the foolishness of the cross comes the unsearchable wisdom of God. So we have to turn to something very weak and very foolish to receive God’s wisdom and God’s strength.
A little further on in 1 Corinthians, Paul said something very interesting. Because I realize that he was speaking to people with a philosophic background just like I acquired through my studies, I can appreciate it so well.
Let no man deceive himself If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.
(1 Cor. 3:18 KJV)
You see, between us and God’s wisdom is a valley, a place of humility. We have to lay aside worldly wisdom. We have to become fools in the eyes of the world in order that we may really enter into God’s wisdom.
At that point, I was confronted with an alternative. I could go on being wise in the world and stay sick, or I could do something that was foolish in the eyes of the world and get healed. I actually have to say, I was much wiser to be foolish and get healed than I would have been to be clever and stay sick. That may sound confusing, but it is exactly what Paul was saying: “If you are wise in this world, you need to become a fool in order that you may be wise, because God’s foolishness is much wiser than man’s wisdom.”
The application is this: “Let them not depart from thine eyes.” Have a single, simple eye. Read the Bible the way it is written, and take it as meaning what it says.
KEEP THEM IN YOUR HEART
We have already looked at the first three directions concerning how to receive God’s medicine. Now we are coming to the fourth and final instruction about His words and sayings: “Keep them in the midst of thine heart.”
This directive is very real to me for two reasons. The first is based on my own experience of being healed through this passage. The second reason is that for five years I was the principal of a college in East Africa that trained African teachers for African schools. Therefore, of course, I had to familiarize myself with some of the principles of teaching. One of the simple principles that we used to try to inculcate knowledge into our students was the principle of what we call the “ear gate” and the “eye gate.” When you want to engage a child’s total attention, you need to engage every available gate. It is not enough for the child just to hear; the child also needs to see. In fact, we also taught them that a child not only needs to hear and see, but must also become practically involved: hear, see, and do.
It blesses me to see that, in this passage in Proverbs, God anticipated the psychology of modern education theory by about 3,000 years. He said, “‘Incline thine ear….let [my words and sayings] not depart from thine eyes’; then they will get into your heart.” You see, the purpose of going through the ear gate and the eye gate is to reach that vital, central area of human personality that the Bible calls the heart. When their hearts are reached, students will do what they promise. But if their hearts are not touched, positive results will not be produced.
In order to be effective, some kinds of medicine that you take must be released into the bloodstream. You can take the medicine, but if it does not get to the bloodstream, it is not going to do what it is supposed to do. Well, God’s medicine is only effective when it is released in the heart. The previous three directions are all concerned with the medicine getting where it will do what is promised, which is the heart. Then it says, “Keep them in the midst of thine heart.”
We need to look on to the very next verse of Proverbs, which is one of the most profound verses in the Bible:
Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.
(Prov. 4:23 KJV)
How profound that is: “Out of [the heart] are the issues of life.”
My mind goes back again to East Africa. One of my students wrote this verse in her own vernacular language, which was called Lorlagoli. I knew just enough to be able to read what she had written on the dormitory wall. It said, “Guard your heart with all of your strength; for all the things in life come out of it.” That is so simple, more simple in a sense than the King James Version.
The conviction never left me that all the things in life do come out of your heart. In other words, what you have in your heart will determine all that you experience in your life. If you have the right thing in your heart, your life will go right. If you have the wrong thing in your heart, your life will go wrong.
However, it is what is in your heart that determines the course of your life. So God says, “If My medicine and My words and My sayings are going to do what I have promised, they must get into your heart, and you must keep them there. ‘Keep them in the midst of thine heart,’ not just on the periphery of your heart, but in the middle. Keep them in the central place of your whole life and personality. They are going to affect the whole way that you live.”
To conclude this teaching about God’s Word being our medicine, I would like to turn to a parallel statement in the New Testament. Hebrews 4:12 speaks about the nature of God’s Word and how it acts within us. In order to make it vivid, I am going to quote two translations so we can pick out certain differences between the versions. First is the King James Version:
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
The New American Standard Bible reads as follows:
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
If I were to choose one word that sums this up, I think it would be the word “penetrating.” God’s Word penetrates. In fact, it penetrates where nothing else can penetrate. We are used to the concept of the surgeon’s knife with its sharp, pointed blade that can penetrate so delicately into human tissue. But the Word of God penetrates into another realm. It divides between soul and spirit, the very innermost areas of our personalities. Things within ourselves that we cannot fully understand about ourselves, the Word of God reveals to us. It separates between joint and marrow. It touches the spiritual areas of us, and it touches the physical areas. There is no area of our lives that is out of its reach.
If you have a disease of the marrow or a disease of the joints, this Scripture says that maybe there’s no human medicine or human instrument that can deal with it, but the Word of God can get there. If you have inner personality problems for which the psychiatrist does not have a solution, the Word of God will get there. God’s Word penetrates.
What is important is that we take God’s Word the way He Himself requires that we take it. We must take it with our undivided attention and with a humble, teachable attitude. We must lay down our barriers of prejudice and preconception and look at it with a single, sincere, wholehearted eye. We do not want to quibble, we do not want to theorize too much. We must take it as meaning what it says. We must lay down the barriers of rationalization and sophistication, and then we can let it enter and do its work.
I thank You for those who have been reading these prologs who have spiritual and physical needs that can only be solved by the Word of God. I pray that this word will enter in and do what is necessary in them: create faith, bring healing, bring deliverance, and bring peace and joy and harmony. All of this I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
GOD’S REMEDY FOR REJECTION
THE NATURE OF REJECTION
Almost all of us have experienced rejection at one time or another, but many of us have not understood its nature or its effects. The rejection may have been something relatively minor—or it may have been so devastating that it affected your whole life and all your relationships.
Here are some common examples: you were not chosen to play on a school sports team; your first boyfriend failed to show up for an important date and never gave you a reason; you were not accepted at the college of your choice; you were laid off from your job for no good reason—they said you were “redundant.”
Far worse than these examples is the pain that comes because you never felt love from your father, because you sensed your mother didn’t want you, or because your marriage ended in divorce.
Experiences such as these leave permanent wounds, whether you are aware of them or not. But I have good news for you! God can heal you from the wounds that come from rejection, help you to accept yourself, and enable you to show His love to others. However, before you can receive His help, you must recognize the nature of your problem.
Rejection can be defined as the sense of being unwanted. You desire people to love you, and yet you believe that they do not. You want to be part of a group, but you feel excluded. Somehow you are always on the outside looking in.
Closely related to rejection are the wounds of betrayal and shame. All produce similar responses in the wounded person, the feeling of not being wanted or accepted.
Sometimes rejection is so wounding and painful that the mind refuses to focus on it. Nevertheless, you know something is there—even though it is deeper than the mind, deeper than the reason, deeper than the memory. It is in your spirit. The book of Proverbs describes this:
A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.
(Prov. 15:13 NIV)
The writer also told how a crushed spirit will affect a person:
A man’s spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?
(Prov. 18:14 NIV)
A vibrant spirit helps a person through great difficulties, but a crushed spirit has a crippling effect in all areas of life.
Our society today is suffering from a progressive breakdown of interpersonal relationships. Quite possibly, you have been caught in the crossfire, and the result has been a wound of rejection. Let me suggest, however, that you should look for a silver lining to that dark cloud.
I believe the Devil has some foreknowledge. He knows God wants to use you, and he has struck his blow first. In a way, it is a kind of twisted compliment. It means that Satan is afraid of what you can become in Christ. So, do not be discouraged. In my experience, I have found that the people who have been the lowest often end up the highest. The Scriptures tell us, “He who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14 NIV).
There is a verse in Matthew that I believe describes how Jesus feels toward you:
But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them…
(Matt. 9:36a NKJV)
The Greek word translated “compassion” is amazingly powerful. It implies a forceful, physical reaction in a person’s body in the abdominal area. It is a reaction so strong that it demands a response. A person who is “moved with compassion” cannot stand by and observe. He must do something. Why was Jesus so moved?
…because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.
(Matt. 9:36b NKJV)
That is just how you may feel: weary, harried, frustrated, perplexed, fearful, anxious, burdened down. Jesus sees you, just as He saw the multitudes. He has compassion for you. He is longing to heal you where you hurt the most.
First, we must understand the true nature of rejection. How does rejection occur? What causes the wounding? When we answer these questions, then we can ask, How can wounds of rejection be treated?
About 1964, I often found myself ministering to people who were bound by addictions to substances such as nicotine or alcohol. Very quickly, however, I discovered that addictions such as these are merely twigs that have sprouted from a branch. Normally, the branch that supports them is some form of frustration. Therefore, the practical solution is to deal with the branch. When the branch of frustration is cut off, dealing with the twigs of addiction is relatively easy.
As I continued to wrestle with people’s personal problems, I gradually worked my way down the trunk of the tree until I came to the part of the tree that lies below the surface—that is, the roots. It is here that God seeks to work in our lives.
And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
(Matt. 3:10 NKJV)
From where is the tree cut down? From the roots. When I got down below the surface, I made a discovery that surprised me at first. One of the most common roots of all personal problems is rejection. I reached this conclusion, not as a sociologist or as a psychologist, but as a preacher and a Bible teacher.
Have you ever seen a small child in his father’s arms? One little hand clutches the lapel of his father’s jacket while his head is pressed against that strong, protective chest. Pressures and tensions may be all around, but the child is not threatened. His face registers total security. He is where he belongs—in his Daddy’s arms.
God designed human nature so that every baby born into the world would crave this kind of security. A child can never truly be satisfied, fulfilled, or secure without parental love, particularly love from a father.
Any person who has been deprived of this kind of love is inevitably exposed to the wound of rejection. Almost entire generations of American fathers have failed their children. Thus, we have a generation of young people whose deepest, most basic problem is rejection.
To this picture of broken relationships between parents and children, we must add the statistics for failed marriages. Today, that covers about half of all marriages. Almost always, one or both parties emerge with a wound of rejection. Very often, there is the added pain of betrayed trust.
When we consider the pressures of today’s society, particularly the breakup of family life, my conviction is that at least half of the people in the United States suffer from some form of rejection. No doubt God foresaw this special end-time crisis of broken relationships when He gave this promise in Malachi:
See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.
(Mal. 4:5-6 NIV)
The final outcome of rejection caused by broken relationships is a curse. However, for those who will turn to God through Jesus, He has provided healing from this curse.
What form will this healing take? What is the opposite of rejection? Acceptance, of course. This is precisely what God offers you when you come to Him through Jesus. “He has made us accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6 NKJV)—that is, in Jesus.
The original Greek word that is translated here as “accepted” is very powerful. It is much stronger than mere approval. In the New King James Version of Luke 1:28, the same Greek word is translated “highly favored one.”
When you come to God through Jesus, you are as accepted and as highly favored as Jesus Himself is. Amazing as it may seem, God loves you in just the same way He loves Jesus. You become a member of His own family.
The first step in overcoming rejection is to recognize the problem. Once you recognize it, you can deal with it. You are not alone in this; God will help you recognize it.
Let me give you a practical illustration. During World War II when I was a medical orderly in the desert in North Africa, I was working with a man who was a brilliant doctor. A bomb fell from an enemy plane and exploded somewhere near us. One of our soldiers was struck with a piece of shrapnel. He came into the medical station with this tiny, black puncture mark in his shoulder. As a result, I was very busy attending to him, cleaning his wound and trying to do the right thing, when I asked the doctor, “Shall I get out a dressing?”
The doctor said, “No, give me the probe.” So, I handed him the little silver stick, and he put it in the wound and moved it around. Nothing happened for a few moments. Suddenly, the probe touched the little piece of shrapnel inside, and the patient let out a yelp. The doctor knew he had found the problem.
When I again asked if I should bring the dressing, the doctor replied, “No, bring me the forceps.” He put the forceps in and removed the piece of shrapnel. Only then did he want to apply the dressing.
You may be putting a little dressing of religion over a wound that cannot heal because there is something inside that is causing it to fester. However, if you will open your heart to the Holy Spirit, He will reveal the source of the problem. If the Holy Spirit’s probe touches a piece of shrapnel, yelp if you must, but don’t resist! Ask Him to use His forceps to remove the problem. Then God can apply something that will really heal it.
As you read on, you will discover how you can move from rejection to acceptance. Along the way, you will also learn how to deal with betrayal and shame. After that, I will show you how to let God’s divine love flow through you to other people.
I have dealt with many, many people who have successfully recognized and recovered from the wounds of rejection. You can be one of those people through God’s grace.
THE CAUSES OF REJECTION
All human relationships are accompanied by the risk of rejection. Sometimes rejection comes during the school years. Perhaps you wore hand-me-down clothes, or you were of a different race, or you had a physical defect, so you were singled out for ridicule at your school. Many people are disturbed by those who are different. If they do not know how to identify with you, they reject you.
The most damaging kind of rejection comes when a child perceives rejection from a parent. There are, perhaps, three main situations that can cause this wound. First, a child may be unwanted during pregnancy. The mother may be carrying a child in her womb whom she really does not want. She may not say anything, but the attitude is in her heart. The child may have been conceived outside of marriage. She may come to resent and hate this thing that is coming into her life and that will create all kinds of problems for her. Such a child may be born with a spirit of rejection.
I discovered an amazing phenomenon in ministering to people in the United States. Very commonly, people in a certain age group seemed to have this sense of early rejection. When I traced it back, I discovered they had been born during the Great Depression. I came to understand that a mother at that time, with many mouths to feed, could hardly bear the thought of having to struggle with one more child. Her inner attitude wounded that child before it ever came forth from her womb.
A second situation is when a child’s parents do not physically demonstrate their love for their child. Bumper stickers used to ask, “Have you hugged your child today?” That is a good question. A child who receives little physical affection or touch tends to become a rejected child.
Even if parents love their child, they may not know how to express their love. I have talked to people recently who say, “I suppose my father loved me, but he never knew how to show it. All his life, he never sat me on his knee; he never did anything to show me that he loved me.” It may be that the child feels rejection from the mother, instead, but in either case the child thinks, “I’m unwanted.”
If you talk to many children today who are bitter and rebellious toward their parents, they will tell you this: “Our parents gave us clothes and an education and a car and a swimming pool, but they never gave us time. They never gave us themselves.”
This, I think, is one reason for the bitter reaction we saw in the 1960s of young people against the older generations. It was a reaction against loveless materialism. Many of those young people who became so bitter and rebellious were from rather privileged, wealthy homes. They had been given everything except love, which was the thing they wanted and needed most.
This form of rejection may also affect a child whose parents have divorced. Usually, it is the mother who is left to care for the children by herself. The child of such a divorce may have had a warm, loving relationship with the father, but suddenly the father is no longer there. His leaving creates an aching void in the child’s heart.
If the father has gone off with another woman, the child’s reaction is twofold: bitterness toward the father and hatred toward the other woman. What the child now has is a deep wound of rejection, something that says, “The person I loved and trusted the most has abandoned me. From now on I can never trust anyone.”
Often, too, the mother, with many new responsibilities thrust upon her, may not be able to give the child the affection she formerly lavished upon him or her. In this case, the child experiences a double rejection: from the father and from the mother.
A third rejection-producing circumstance occurs when siblings perceive unequal affection from their parents, whether it is intentional or not. I have noticed that a family with three children may have a first child who is clever and knows all the answers. As the first child, he enjoys a natural priority. The next child comes along and is not so brilliant. Then the third child is cute and bright. The second child continually feels inferior to the others. Somehow, the parents are always praising the oldest child or the youngest, but they do not say much about the middle child. In many cases, that middle child feels rejected and unwanted. He or she thinks, “My parents love my older brother and my younger sister, but they don’t love me.”
On the other hand, instead of one child in the family experiencing rejection, sometimes one child receives an unfair measure of love and attention at the expense of the siblings. The other children, just by comparing themselves with that particularly favored child, feel rejected.
I remember a story about a mother who had several daughters but favored one above the rest. One day, she heard a sound in another room. Thinking it was the daughter she particularly loved, she called out, “Is that you, darling?” The discouraged voice of another daughter was heard in reply, “No, it’s only me.”
Then the mother realized the impact that her favoritism for the one daughter had left on the others. She repented and sought to repair the damaged relationships with all of her children.
Let me give you another example of how rejection can occur at a very young age and of the spiritual impact it can have on a child. Many years ago, I was conducting services at a church in Miami. While visiting one of the parishioners at home a few nights earlier, I had done something I rarely do. I said to the woman, “Sister, if I’m correct, you have the spirit of death in you.”
She had every reason to be happy, but she never was. She had a good husband and children, yet she hardly ever smiled or looked happy. She was like a person in continual mourning. Although I very rarely make that kind of statement to anybody, I felt I had to say something to her that night.
I said, “I’m preaching on Friday night in Miami. If you come, I’ll pray for you.”
At the beginning of the meeting, I noticed her sitting in the front row. Once again, I did something I do not usually do. At a certain point in the service, I walked over to her and said, “You spirit of death, in the name of Jesus, I command you to answer me now. When did you enter this woman?”
And the spirit, not the woman, answered very clearly, “When she was two years old.”
I said, “How did you get in?”
Again, it was the spirit that answered, “Oh, she felt rejected; she felt unwanted; she felt lonely.”
Later that evening, the woman was delivered from the spirit of death, but for several days that incident kept coming back to my mind. It gave me a new understanding of the effect that rejection can have on a person’s life. It is not merely evil in itself, but it also opens the door for various other negative, destructive forces to move in and gradually take over a person’s life. Rejection truly is a root from which much that is harmful can grow.
Since that time, I have dealt with several hundred people who needed and received deliverance from the spiritual effects of rejection.
The woman in that example was obviously distressed, but rejection is not always outwardly visible. Rejection can be a hidden, inner attitude that we carry around. The problem lies in the area of the spirit. I have learned by experience that every negative emotion, reaction, and attitude have associated with them a corresponding spirit. Behind fear is a spirit of fear; behind jealousy is a spirit of jealousy; behind hate is a spirit of hate.
This does not mean that every person who experiences fear, for instance, has a spirit of fear. However, a person who fails to exercise self-control and habitually or unrestrainedly gives in to fear will probably open the way for a spirit of fear to enter. After that, the person is no longer in full control of himself or herself.
This also applies to other emotions such as jealousy or hate. In many cases, rejection opens the way for the other negative spirits to follow. As already stated, rejection is a root from which many destructive emotions and attitudes may grow.
Here is an example of how the process may work. A young girl feels rejected by her father and hates him because he is critical and unloving. This hatred deepens to a point where she can no longer suppress it.
When she becomes an adult, she marries and has children of her own. In due course, she finds herself hating one of her own children. Her hatred is vicious and unreasonable, but she cannot control it. This is a spirit of hate. When the father is no longer present, the hatred is directed against some other family member.
Another effect of the spirit of hatred may cause her to hate all men. She may even become a lesbian and avoid all healthy contact with men.
In the next chapter, we turn to a form of rejection that far too many people have experienced in deep, close relationships—betrayal of trust. I also describe how shame often accompanies this kind of experience.
BETRAYAL AND SHAME
Previously, we discussed some of the primary causes of rejection in early childhood. As we grow older, we expose ourselves to the possibility of even more rejection as the bonds of intimate, close relationships form in us. If we are rejected in one of these relationships, especially by a marriage partner, the pain is compounded because it involves broken trust, and thus it becomes betrayal.
Like most other ministers, numerous times I have counseled wives who felt that they had lost everything. They trusted their husbands and gave themselves unreservedly. Then their husbands left them. The wives felt betrayed. I have also talked to husbands who have been betrayed by their wives. I have also seen many other varieties of betrayal.
Have you been betrayed? How have you responded?
When someone betrays you, you may say, “I’ll never open myself up again. No one will ever get another chance to hurt me like that.” That is a natural reaction, but it is also dangerous. It will open you up to a second problem, defensiveness, which is the reaction of somebody who has been hurt once too often. Defensiveness says, “All right, I’ll go through life, but I will never let anybody come near enough to hurt me like that again. I’ll always keep a wall between me and other people.”
Do you know who suffers? You do. Your personality shrivels, becoming incomplete. You grow as a tree does when its main trunk is lopped off—in a distorted manner. In Isaiah we find a vivid picture of what betrayal is like. The Lord was comforting His people Israel through Isaiah. God painted for them a picture of their condition as He saw it. He compared them to a wife who has been rejected by her husband. This same situation is distressingly all too familiar for millions of women today, yet the Lord still offers these same comforting words:
“Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. For your Maker is your husband—the lord Almighty is his name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth. The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—a wife who married young, only to be rejected,” says your God.
(Isa. 54:4-6 NIV)
The illustration reaches its zenith in the last verse with the image of a “wife deserted and distressed in spirit—a wife who married young, only to be rejected.” Many of you may know how that feels.
Sometimes it is the other way around; sometimes the wife rejects her husband. Although we regard men as somehow being stronger than women, I know from the many cases with which I have dealt that a man who feels rejected by his wife can suffer inexpressible agony. He may feel he has failed as a man. In some ways, perhaps, it is harder for a man to experience that kind of hurt because he feels ashamed of it. Our society expects men to be impervious to emotional pain.
This vivid picture in Isaiah highlights two things that are commonly associated with betrayal in marriage. Through Isaiah, the Lord says, “You will not suffer shame….You will not be humiliated.” To have given yourself without reservation to another person, to have poured out your love upon him, to have made yourself available to him, and then to discover that he has rejected you—the sum of all that can bring with it shame and humiliation.
You are suffering from shame if somehow you feel that you are not fit to meet other people or that you cannot look anyone straight in the face. People who are suffering from shame will often avert or lower their eyes when approached by another person. Shame is debilitating, and it keeps us from functioning as healthy human beings.
In addition to betrayal through divorce, two other common ways in which shame affects a person’s spirit are through public humiliation and child abuse.
Public humiliation often happens in a school setting. For example, my wife and I were acquainted with a fine, young Jewish man—we will call him Max—who had accepted the Messiah but still had problems. As we were speaking with him one time, I detected a sense of shame. When we asked him about this, his mind went back to high school. At the end of the school year, the headmaster had announced in front of all the other students that Max was the only one who had failed and that he would have to repeat his classes the following year.
From that time on, Max was never exactly the person he ought to have been. He covered it up. He was very active and aggressive in order to prove he was the best. However, if you have to struggle all the time to prove you are as good as others, something is wrong. Max needed to recognize and acknowledge shame at work in his life.
Another way betrayal and shame come in is through sexual or physical abuse in childhood. Both are distressingly common in our society. A child may not be free to tell anyone else about it. Often it is a parent, grandparent, or another relative who is responsible for the abuse. The abused child never knows whether to trust that relative again. Thus, the person continually struggles with mixed attitudes: on the one hand, mistrust; on the other, the obligation to show respect. How can a child honor a parent who has abused him or her?
A person may go through life without ever resolving that tension. It remains a shameful secret. However, you can always open up to the Lord and tell Him all your hidden secrets. You never embarrass or shock Him, and He will never reject you. You can tell Him the worst thing that ever happened to you, and He will respond, “I knew it all along, and I still love you.”
Even though God offers us full acceptance, our realization of His love is often blocked by the far-reaching consequences of rejection, betrayal, and shame, which I will describe in the next chapter.
THE RESULTS OF REJECTION
I believe the primary result of rejection is the inability to receive or communicate love. A person who has never experienced being loved cannot transmit love. Scripture expresses that truth this way:
We love because [God] first loved us.
(1 John 4:19 NIV)
It is the love of God that stimulates our love for Him in response. Love lies dormant until it is stimulated by another person. Without such interaction, love never comes to life.
Hence, if a person does not know the love of God or parents, an inability to love can be passed from generation to generation. For example, a little girl is born into a family where she does not experience love. She has a wound of rejection, so she cannot communicate love. She grows up, marries, becomes a mother, and has a daughter. Because she cannot communicate love to her daughter, her daughter has the same problem. Thus, this terrible problem is perpetuated from generation to generation.
In ministering to such people, I have often said, “At some point this thing must be stopped. Why not let it happen now so that you don’t continue passing on rejection to the next generation? Is rejection the legacy you want to leave to your children?” God spoke through Ezekiel that children should not be obligated to suffer for what their ancestors did wrong:
The word of the LORD came to me: “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: ‘The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son—both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die….He [who] follows my decrees and faithfully keeps my laws. That man is righteous; he will surely live, declares the Sovereign LORD.”
(Ezek. 18:1-4, 9 NIV)
Thus, even if your parents never showed you love, God does not want you or your children to suffer for their mistakes. By accepting God’s provision, you can cut off that evil inheritance once and for all.
Besides an inability to show love, there are other secondary results of rejection. I would say rejection produces three kinds of people: the person who gives in, the person who holds out, and the person who fights back.
First, let’s look at the person who gives in. This type of person thinks, “I just can’t take this. Life is too much for me. There is really nothing I can do.”
I have learned by experience in dealing with such people that it opens the way for a descending series of negative emotions or attitudes that goes like this:
despair or hopelessness
death or suicide
The final result is tragic. Many, of course, stop short of it, yet it is the logical outcome of the process that is set in motion by rejection. Whether it takes the form of death or of suicide depends on the emotional makeup of each person. Someone whose reactions are essentially passive will ultimately succumb to death. Rejection is, in fact, a contributing factor in many deaths that are attributed merely to natural causes.
A person who follows the path to death has an inner desire to die. Have you ever made a remark such as, “I’d be better off dead” or “What’s the use of living?” That is a very dangerous way to speak. It is an invitation to the spirit of death to enter.
In contrast, a person with a more aggressive attitude will turn to suicide as a radical solution. Such people may also ask themselves, “What’s the use of living?” However, they will add, “I might as well end it all.”
Often, the more aggressive person sees suicide as a way to hurt those who have caused his pain. The inner thought pattern is something like this: “I’ll get even with them. Now they’ll suffer the way I have!”
The latest figures for suicides among young people in America are frightening. More than five thousand youths between the ages of five and twenty-four committed suicide in 1990, according to National Center for Health statistics.
In most cases, the undiagnosed root cause of these suicides was rejection. They probably could not express it in words, but deep down, these young people felt unwanted and unimportant.
Are you beginning to realize that you have some of the symptoms I have described? If you find you are losing control over your own responses, it may well be that you are not just struggling with your own negative attitudes. A demonic influence may be at work exploiting those attitudes.
Do not close your mind to this possibility. Coming to grips with your problem can be a big step toward overcoming it. In a later chapter, I will show you how to pray against this kind of evil influence.
The second personality pattern produced by rejection is the type of person who refuses to give in and builds some kind of defense. This is really a facade, something that covers up the inner agony and struggle.
Someone who is building up a defense for himself usually develops a kind of superficial happiness. The person appears to be outgoing and is probably talkative, but the voice has a hollow, metallic ring to it. A woman practicing this facade often overdoes her makeup. Her frequent gestures are exaggerated. Her voice is a little louder than is pleasant. She is desperately trying to appear happy, as though she is not hurt, as though nothing is wrong inside, as though her life is perfect. What she is really thinking inside is, “I’ve been hurt so badly that I’m never going to give another person the opportunity to hurt me like that again. I will not let anyone come close enough to hurt me.
This type of reaction is often the response to betrayal, as I mentioned earlier. There are uncounted thousands of such people in American society today.
The third type of person becomes a fighter—one who fights everything. The order in which his reactions to rejection develop is usually like this: first, resentment; second, hatred; and finally, rebellion. Rebellion and witchcraft are twins, according to Scripture:
For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.
(1 Sam. 15:23 NKJV)
The sin of witchcraft means participating in the occult, which is the search for false spiritual experiences. The occult includes such things as Ouija boards, horoscopes, fortune tellers, seances, drugs—that whole realm. This sin is really the expression of rebellion. It is turning from the true God to a false god. It is the breaking of the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3 NIV).
Basically, the generation of young people growing up in the 1960s went the way of resentment, hatred, rebellion, and very often the occult. As I mentioned earlier, it was not because they were denied material things. Rather, it was because they did not feel loved, which was the one thing they really wanted.
Next, we will find out what Jesus has done to heal the wounds of rejection.
THE ULTIMATE REJECTION
Everything that God provides in the Gospel is based on fact. This can be summed up in three progressive fs—facts, faith, and feelings. The Gospel is based on three simple facts: Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, He was buried, and He rose again on the third day. First Corinthians 15:3-4 indicates that these facts are the basis of the whole Gospel. They are the facts.
Faith appropriates these facts. Faith begins with the facts; it accepts, believes, and acts on them. Then, after facts and faith are feelings.
It makes all the difference in your life whether your faith is based on facts or on feelings. If it is based on feelings, you will be a very inconsistent, unstable person. Your feelings may change as circumstances change, but the facts will never change. If we are to make progress as Christians, we have to learn to believe the facts, even when our feelings cause us to doubt them.
To receive God’s provision for rejection, there are two basic facts you must lay hold of. First of all, God did not make a lot of different provisions for each of the various needs of humanity. Instead, He made one all-inclusive provision that covers all the needs of all people: the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross.
Second, what took place on the cross was an exchange that God Himself had planned. All the evil consequences of our sins came upon Jesus so that, in return, all the benefits of Jesus’ sinless obedience might be made available to us. For our part, we have done nothing to deserve this, and we have no merits or rights by which we can claim it. It proceeded solely out of the unfathomable love of God.
Therefore, it is futile to approach God on the basis of some merit or virtue that we may imagine we possess. Nothing we have to offer of ourselves can be compared with the merit of the sacrifice that Jesus offered on our behalf. In contrast to the pure, holy Son of God dying in payment for our sins, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6 NIV).
This wonderful revelation has been summed up in a simple couplet:
How sovereign, wonderful, and free
The love of God for sinful me!
As you read the following verses, you will discover various aspects of the exchange that took place on the cross.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles.
(Gal. 3:13-14 NIV)
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
(2 Cor. 5:21 NIV)
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
(2 Cor. 8:9 NIV)
He [Jesus] suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
(Heb. 2:9 NIV)
Do you see the exchange? Christ took our curse so that we might have His blessing. He took our sin in order that we might have His righteousness. He took our poverty so that we might have His wealth. He took our death in order that we might have His life. Isn’t that beautiful?
This exchange also has implications for us concerning shame and rejection. The writer of Hebrews said,
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame. (Heb. 12:2 NIV, emphasis added)
Jesus was well aware of the shame and public humiliation that He would experience on the cross. In fact, one of the primary objectives of crucifixion was to shame the person. As the person hung naked on the cross, spectators walked by, made derogatory remarks, and sometimes even did obscene things, which I will not describe.
In a prophetic vision, Isaiah glimpsed the sufferings of Jesus seven centuries before they actually took place:
I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.
(Isa. 50:6 NIV)
Jesus willingly endured mocking for us on the cross. What does God offer us in return? Again, we turn to Isaiah:
Instead of their shame my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance.
(Isa. 61:7 NIV)
In place of the word “disgrace,” I would say embarrassment or humiliation. Instead of personal shame, embarrassment, and humiliation, God offers us honor and joy. Hebrews 2:10 further tells us that through the suffering and death of Jesus, God purposed to bring “many sons to glory” (NIV). Joy, honor, glory—all are offered to us in the place of shame and humiliation. Now we come to the deepest wound of all—rejection. Jesus endured a double rejection: first by men and then by God Himself. Isaiah clearly portrayed the rejection of Jesus by His fellow countrymen:
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
(Isa. 53:3 NIV, emphasis added)
Still worse things were to happen to our Savior. The last moments of Jesus on the cross are described in Matthew:
From the sixth hour [midday] until the ninth hour [three o’clock in the afternoon] darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
(Matt. 27:45-51 NIV)
For the first time in the history of the universe, the Son of God prayed but the Father did not answer Him. God averted His eyes from His Son. God stopped His ears at His cry. Why? Because, at that time, Jesus was identified with our sin. The attitude of God the Father toward Jesus had to be the attitude of God’s holiness toward our sin—the refusal of fellowship, a complete and absolute rejection. Jesus did not endure that for His own sake, but instead to make His soul a sin offering for us.
It means a lot to me that Jesus spoke in Aramaic at that agonizing moment on the cross. I have witnessed this behavior when visiting people in the hospital. When people are under real pressure, desperately sick, maybe at death’s door, they often revert to the language they first learned in childhood. I have observed this many times, but I remember it so vividly with my first wife, Lydia. As she breathed her last, she whispered, “Tak for blodet; tak for blodet,” which means “Thank You for the blood” in Danish, her mother tongue.
This passage gives such a clear picture of the humanity of Jesus: as He suffered intense pain and agony, His mind went back to the language He had spoken in His childhood home. He cried out in Aramaic.
Think of that awful darkness. Think of the loneliness, the sense of being absolutely abandoned—first by man, then by God. You and I may have experienced some measure of rejection, but never has it been in that measure. Jesus drained the cup of rejection to its bitter dregs. He should have been able to live several hours longer on the cross, but He died of a broken heart. What broke His heart? The ultimate rejection.
And then, look at the consequence, which was so dramatic, so immediate:
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
What does that mean? Simply that the barrier between God and man had been removed. The way was opened for man to come to God without shame, without guilt, without fear. Jesus took our rejection so that we might experience His acceptance. That is the meaning of the torn curtain. The rejection by His Father was more than Jesus could bear. But, thank God, the result for us is direct access to God.
Look now at how God has worked out and completed our acceptance:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
(Eph. 1:3-6 NIV)
What was God’s eternal purpose, even before creation? That we might become His children, His sons and daughters. That could only be achieved through the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross. When Jesus bore our sins and suffered our rejection, He opened the way for our acceptance. For just that time, Christ lost His status as God’s Son in order that we might gain status as God’s sons and daughters.
The New King James Version offers a special insight into this passage: “To the praise of the glory of His grace, by which has made us accepted in the Beloved” (v. 6). That is the remedy for rejection—the realization that Jesus bore your rejection so that you might have His acceptance.
Ponder the depth of that revelation! We are the objects of God’s particular loving care and attention. We are number one on His list of things to take care of in the universe. He does not push us away into a corner and say, “Wait over there. I’m busy. I don’t have time for you now.” And never does some angel say, “Don’t make a noise. Daddy is sleeping.”
God says, “Come in. You are welcome. I am interested in you. I love and want you. I’ve been waiting a long time for you.”
In the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32, God’s heart toward us is represented by the father, who longed for his son to return so much that he was out watching. No one had to come and tell him, “Your son is coming home.” The first one to know it was the father. God’s attitude toward us in Christ is like that father’s. We are not rejects; we are not second-class citizens; we are not slaves.
When the Prodigal came back, he was willing to be a servant. He intended to say, “Father…make me like one of your hired men” (Luke 15:18-19 NIV). But as the Prodigal confessed his sins, his father cut his words off and never allowed him to say, “Make me one of your hired servants.”
On the contrary, the father said, “Bring out the best robe. Put shoes on his feet, a ring on his finger. Kill the fatted calf! We’re going to have a good time. ‘For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found’ (v. 24 NIV).”
The whole household was turned upside down to welcome the Prodigal as he returned. It is like that in heaven, Jesus said, “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7 NIV). That is how God welcomes us in Christ.
Here, then, are the two facts you need to lay hold of: First of all, Christ bore our rejection on the cross, along with all of the shame and betrayal, agony and heartache. In fact, He died of a broken heart. Second, we are accepted because of His rejection. We are “accepted in the Beloved.” It was an exchange. Jesus bore the evil so that we might receive the good. He carried our sorrows so we might have His joy.
Sometimes, all you need is to grasp these two facts. Several years ago at a big camp meeting, as I was on my way to a preaching assignment, I literally bumped into a lady who was going rapidly in the opposite direction. Breathlessly, she said, “Oh, Brother Prince, I was praying that if God wanted me to speak to you, we would meet.”
“Well,” I said, “we’ve met! What’s the problem? I can give you about two minutes because I’m due to preach.” She started to talk, but after about half a minute, I interrupted her. “Wait, I know what your problem is. I don’t need to hear any more,” I said. “Your problem is rejection. I’ve got the answer. Listen. I want you to pray these words out loud after me.”
I did not tell her in advance what I was going to say. I simply prayed extemporaneously, and she followed me phrase by phrase.
I thank You that You love me; that You gave Jesus, Your Son, to die on my behalf; that He bore my sin; that He took my rejection; that He paid my penalty. Because I come to You through Him, I am not rejected; I am not unwanted; I am not excluded. You really love me. I am really Your child. You are really my Father. I belong in Your family. I belong to the best family in the universe. Heaven is my home. I really belong. Oh, God, thank You, thank You.
After we finished, I said, “Amen, good-bye, I have to go,” and took off.
About a month later, I got a letter from the lady. After describing the encounter, she said, “I want to tell you, those two minutes you spent with me and the prayer that I prayed have completely changed the whole of my life. I’ve been a different person ever since.”
As I read her letter, I understood what had happened to her at the moment of praying: she had passed from rejection to acceptance.
God’s family is the best family. There is no family quite equal to the family of God. Even if your own family did not care for you, your own father rejected you, your mother never had time for you, or your husband never showed you love, bear in mind that God wants you. You are accepted; you are highly favored; you are the object of His special care and affection. Everything He does in the universe revolves around you.
Paul said to the Corinthians—who were not exactly top-class Christians—“All this is for your benefit” (2 Cor. 4:15 NIV). Everything God does, He does for us. You will not get conceited when you realize that—instead, it will humble you. There is no room left for conceit when you see the grace of God.
It is most significant that, before His crucifixion, Jesus’ last prayer with His disciples was for those who followed Him then as well as for those who would follow afterward. (See John 17:20.) That prayer concerned our relationship with God as our Father and ended this way:
Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them….
(John 17:25-26a NIV)
How did Jesus make God known to us? As Father. The Jews had known God as Yahweh for fourteen centuries, but the only Person who could introduce Him as Father was His Son. Six times in this prayer for His disciples, Jesus addressed God as Father (vv. 1, 5, 11, 21, 24, 25).
When Jesus prayed, “…and [I] will continue to make you known…” (v. 26b NIV), He was saying that He would continue to reveal God as Father. Then we come to the purpose of this revelation:
…in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.
(v. 26c NIV)
I understand this to mean that because Jesus is in us, God has exactly the same love for us as He has for Jesus. We are as dear to God as Jesus Himself is. However, there is also another aspect to this. Because Jesus is in us, we can love God in the same way that Jesus loves Him.
This represents the ultimate purpose of the earthly ministry of Jesus: to bring us into the same love relationship that exists between the Father and the Son. This has two aspects: not only does the Father have the same love for us that He has for Jesus, but also we can reciprocate with the same love for the Father that Jesus has.
The Beloved Apostle told us, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18 NIV). As we develop this love relationship with God, it leaves no room for guilt, for insecurity, or for rejection.
Perhaps you have unhappy memories of a human father. God intended every father to demonstrate what He Himself is, but many fathers have failed. Yet you still have a heavenly Father who loves you, who understands you, who thinks the best of you, and who plans the best for you. He will never abandon you, never misunderstand you, never take sides against you; nor will He ever reject you.
For some, the simple declaration of acceptance in Christ and the fatherhood of God resolves the problem of rejection. But for others, that may not be enough to solve the issue. If you feel that your situation is not yet resolved, you may need further help. Follow on with me in the next chapter as I explain certain practical steps you can take to make God’s provision effective in your life.
HOW TO APPLY THE REMEDY
By this point, you have allowed the Holy Spirit to insert His probe into your wound, and He has exposed the foreign body that was causing the pain and the infection. Are you now ready to accept God’s remedy? If so, there are five successive steps you need to follow.
Step 1. Recognize the nature of your problem and call it by its right name—rejection. God always has to bring us to the moment of truth, even though it may seem devastating and extremely painful, before we can receive His help.
Step 2. Take Jesus as your pattern.
Because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
(1 Pet. 2:21 NIV)
How did Jesus, meet rejection? For three-and-a-half years, He had completely given His life to doing good, to forgiving sin, to delivering demon-oppressed people, to healing sickness. At the end of that period, the Roman ruler offered a choice to Jesus’ own people, the Jews. He was willing to release from prison either Jesus of Nazareth or a criminal named Barabbas, who was guilty of political insurrection and murder.
By one of the most amazing and tragic decisions in all of human history, the people rejected Jesus and chose Barabbas. So, the mob cried out, “Away with Jesus! Crucify Him! We don’t want Him. We’ll have Barabbas, the rebel and the murderer.” (See Luke 23:13-25.)
In response, Jesus prayed for those who had crucified Him,
Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.
(v. 34 NIV)
The second step, therefore, is to forgive. This is not an easy thing to do. In fact, left to yourself, you are incapable of doing so. However, you are not left to yourself. As you come to this moment, the Holy Spirit is right there with you. If you will yield to Him, He will give you the supernatural grace you need.
You may say, “But the person who hurt me is dead, so why do I need to forgive him?” Whether he is dead or alive is not important. It is for your sake that you are forgiving, not for the other person.
I know a fine, young, Christian man who heard this message. He realized that for years he had carried bitterness, resentment, anger, and rebellion against his father, who was dead. He took his wife on a journey of several hundred miles to the cemetery where his father was buried. Leaving his wife in the car, he went alone to his father’s grave. He knelt there and for the next several hours emptied out all his poisonous attitudes. He did not get up until he knew he had forgiven his father. When he walked out of that cemetery, he was a different person. His wife testifies today that she has a brand-new husband. His father had died, but his resentment had remained very much alive.
There is something especially important about parent-child relationships. Young people in particular need to remember this.
The only one of the Ten Commandments with a promise directly attached to it is this:
Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you.
(Deut. 5:16 NIV)
You can be sure of this: if you do not honor your parents, your life will never go well; but if you do, God will favor you with a long, blessed life. (See Ephesians 6:2-3.)
You may say to me, “My mother was a prostitute; my father was an alcoholic. Do you expect me to honor them?” Yes, I do: not as a prostitute and not as an alcoholic, but as your mother and father. It is God’s requirement.
When I was newly saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit, I thought I knew so much more than my parents. Mark Twain once quipped that when he came back home after he had been away for a number of years, he was surprised at how much his parents had learned in the meantime! Well, I was like that, but one day God showed me this principle: If you want it to go well with you, you have to learn to honor your parents. My parents have both passed away now, but I thank God that I really learned to show them honor. I think that is one reason why it goes well with me.
I have seen both sides of this principle. I have seen the people who honored their parents and were blessed, and I have seen the people who refused to do it, and their lives never really went well for them. Their lives were never totally blessed of God.
The failure to forgive is one of the most common barriers to God’s blessing. This principle also applies to the relationship between husbands and wives. I remember talking to a lady who had come to me for prayer and deliverance. I said to her, “You are going to have to forgive your husband.”
She said, “After he ruined fifteen years of my life and ran off with another woman?”
I said, “Well, do you want him to ruin the rest of your life? If so, just keep on resenting him, because that will do it.”
Remember, it is not the one who is resented that suffers the most. It is the one who resents. As somebody said about the man with the ulcer: “It’s not what the man is eating; it’s what’s eating the man.”
Forgiveness is not an emotion; it is a decision. Do not say, “I can’t.” In actuality, you are saying, “I won’t.” If you can say, “I won’t,” you can also say, “I will.” Your fleshly nature may not be able to forgive, but you can choose to forgive by asking God to work His forgiveness in and through you. When the Holy Spirit enables you (and He will), you can forgive—if you will.
Step 3. Make a conscious decision to get rid of the bad fruit that rejection has produced in your life, such as bitterness, resentment, hatred, and rebellion. Remember that young man in the cemetery! These things are poison. If you nourish them in your heart, they will poison your whole life. They will cause you deep emotional problems and quite likely physical problems also. Say with a decision of your will: “I lay down bitterness, resentment, hatred, and rebellion.”
Counselors say to cured alcoholics, “Resentment is a luxury you can no longer afford.” That is true for all of us. No one can afford resentment. It is too expensive.
Step 4. In this step you simply need to receive and believe what God has already done for you.
[God] has made us accepted in the Beloved.
(Eph. 1:6 NKJV, emphasis added)
When you come to God through Jesus, you discover that you are already accepted. God has no second-class children. He does not just tolerate you. He loves you. He is interested in you. He cares for you. Look at these beautiful words in Ephesians:
[God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.
(vv. 4-6 NKJV)
God’s purpose from eternity was to make us His children, which He accomplished through the death of Jesus for us on the cross. The only thing you need to do is to believe that God wants you to be His child. When you come to God through Jesus, He has already accepted you.
Step 5. Accept yourself. Sometimes this is the hardest step of all. I tell Christians, “Never belittle yourself. Never criticize yourself. You did not make yourself. God made you.”
Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “We are God’s workmanship” (NIV). The Greek word translated here as “workmanship” is poiema, from which we derive the English word poem. It suggests an artistic achievement. We are God’s masterpieces. Of all God created, He has devoted the most time and care to us.
Amazingly enough, He went to the scrap heap for His material! You may be looking back over a record of failures and false starts—over a broken marriage, over children who went wrong, over financial disaster. You may label yourself a failure, but God calls you, “My son, My daughter.” You can accept yourself because God has accepted you. When you come to God in Jesus, you become a new creation.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all [this is] of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ.
(2 Cor. 5:17-18 NKJV)
You can no longer evaluate yourself on the basis of the way you lived before you came to Christ, because you have become a new creation since then. Now, your only true standard of self-evaluation is what God says about who you have become in Jesus. As you repeatedly declare who you are in Christ according to God’s Word, you will begin to override the old, negative self-talk and learn to accept yourself.
Have you followed through those five steps? If so, it is time now for you to claim your release and to pray a prayer that will set the seal on what you have learned about God’s acceptance of you.
You can pray simply in your own words. But if you are not quite sure what to say, here is a pattern prayer that you may make your own:
Lord Jesus Christ,
I believe that You are the Son of God and the only way to God. You died on the cross for my sins, and You rose again from the dead. I repent of all my sins, and I forgive every other person as I would have God forgive me. I forgive all those who have rejected me and hurt me and failed to show me love, Lord, and I trust You to forgive me.
I believe, Lord, that You do accept me. Right now, because of what You did for me on the cross, I am accepted. I am highly favored. I am the object of Your special care. You really love me. You want me. Your Father is my Father. Heaven is my home. I am a member of the family of God, the best family in the universe. I am accepted. Thank You! Thank You!
One more thing, Lord. I accept myself the way You made me. I am Your workmanship, and I thank You for what You have done. I believe that You have begun a good work in me and You will carry it on to completion until my life ends.
And now, Lord, I proclaim my release from any dark, evil spirit that took advantage of the wounds in my life. I release my spirit to rejoice in You. In Your precious name, Amen.
This is the moment to be released from any evil spirit that may have been tormenting you. If you feel some force struggling against the prayer you have just prayed, that is an evil spirit. Quite possibly a word may form in your mind—rejection, resentment, self-pity, hatred, death, or other similar names. That is the Holy Spirit revealing the identity of your enemy. Renounce it by name, and then release it. No matter what way it manifests itself, you must expel it. Breathe it out, sob it out, or scream it out—but get it out!
This is the moment you have been longing for. Don’t worry about your dignity right now! Accept all the help the Holy Spirit gives you.
As you experience release, begin to praise God out loud: “Lord, I thank You. Lord, I praise You. Lord, I love You! Thank You for liberation. Thank You for setting me free. Thank You for all You have done for me.”
Thanking God sets the seal on your release. Now you are ready for your new life of freedom.
ACCEPTANCE IN GOD’S FAMILY
One more important step remains in achieving complete acceptance: finding acceptance by God’s people. This means discovering your place in the body of Christ. As Christians, we are never isolated individuals. We are brought into a relationship with our fellow believers. That relationship is one of the ways in which our acceptance is worked out in our day-to-day living. Acceptance by our Father in heaven is the first step and the most important. However, acceptance also has to find expression in our relationships with our fellow believers. Christians collectively constitute one body, with each Christian a member of that body. As Paul wrote,
Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
(Rom. 12:4-5 NIV)
Since we are members of one body, and each of us belongs to all the others, we can never find full satisfaction, peace, or acceptance apart from the other members.
Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.
(1 Cor. 12:14-16 NIV)
You are a part of the body. You may be a foot, a hand, an ear, or an eye. However, you are incomplete without the rest of the body, and the rest of the body is incomplete without you. That is why it is so important to find your place in the body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.
(vv. 21-23 NIV)
Thus, none of us can say to our fellow believers, “I don’t need you.” We all need one another. God created the body so that the members are interdependent. None of them can function effectively alone. That applies to each one of us. That applies to you. You need the other members, and they need you. Finding your place in the body will make your acceptance a real, day-to-day experience.
Another picture the New Testament gives of Christians is that of a single family unit. We are all members of one and the same family. The great Prayer that Jesus taught His disciples begins with these two significant words: “Our Father” (Matt. 6:9). That tells us two things. First, we have a Father who is God. That means we are accepted vertically by God. But the first word is our and not my, which tells us that we are members of a family, with a lot of other children in that family. Our acceptance becomes effective horizontally only when we find and fit into our place in the family. Thus, we find vertical acceptance with God and horizontal acceptance in God’s family.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household [or members of God’s family].
(Eph. 2:19 NIV)
The alternative is to be foreigners and aliens. We do not like those words, foreigners and aliens. I immigrated to the United States in 1963, and I did not become a citizen until 1970. For seven years, I was an alien in this country. Most people who become citizens at birth have no idea what it is like to be an alien.
Every January I had to fill out a form for the Department of Justice, notifying them of where I was residing. They had to be able to find me if they had questions about me—or if they wanted to deport me. I also could not vote in federal or local elections.
If I went out of the country, on my return I had to join a special line, separate from U.S. citizens, to have my passport checked. Then, along with my passport, I had to present a little green card, stating that I was a resident alien.
There are distinctions and differences between citizens and foreigners. You do not really belong as long as you are an alien. However, God says, “You are no longer an alien. You do belong. You are inside. You are part of My family.” Yet that only becomes real to you when you find your place in the family. The psalmist wrote,
God sets the lonely in families…
(Ps. 68:6a NIV)
Are you lonely? Millions of people are. They have not realized that God provides families for the lonely.
…he leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.
(v. 6b NIV)
God’s purpose is to bring you into a family. In doing so, He breaks the chains that bind you, and He brings you into happiness. Only people who refuse God’s leadership have to dwell in a scorched land.
You may wonder just how you should become a part of God’s family. You can join groups with many different names—church, fellowship, mission, and so on. The name is not important. But it is not always easy to find the kind of group that will make you truly accepted. In my book The Marriage Covenant, I have listed nine questions that anybody seeking such a group should ask before he or she joins:
1.Do they honor and uplift the Lord Jesus Christ?
2.Do they respect the authority of Scripture?
3.Do they make room for the moving of the Holy Spirit?
4.Do they exhibit a warm and friendly attitude?
5.Do they seek to work out their faith in practical, day-to-day living?
6.Do they build interpersonal relationships among themselves that go beyond merely attending services?
7.Do they provide pastoral care that embraces all your legitimate needs?
8.Are they open to fellowship with other Christian groups?
9.Do you feel at ease and at home among them?
If the answer to all or most of these questions is affirmative, you are getting warm. Continue to seek God, however, until you receive definite direction from Him. Keep in mind that you probably will not find the perfect group.
Now you know the way to escape from your loneliness and your sense of being on the outside looking in. Become part of a living organism, a living body. Find your place and your function, and you will experience fulfillment.
At the end of The Marriage Covenant, I suggest a prayer to be prayed by anyone longing to find his or her place among God’s people. I am including it here. If it expresses how you feel, read it through, and then put it in your own words. That way you can make it your prayer.
I have been lonely and unfulfilled, and I acknowledge it. I long to “dwell in your house” (Psalm 84:4 NIV), to be part of a spiritual family of committed believers. If there are any barriers in me, I ask You to remove them. Guide me to a group where this longing of mine can be fulfilled, and help me to make the needed commitment to them. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
If you have sincerely prayed that prayer, I promise you that something is going to happen in your life. God is going to move. He will give you new direction and new associations. He will open new doors for you. He will bring you out of that parched land and cause you to be a member of His family and a part of His body.
THE FLOW OF DIVINE LOVE
In briefly reviewing the information we have covered, we have learned that many people suffer from the spiritual wounds of rejection, betrayal, and shame. Specific causes include parental neglect, divorce, public humiliation, and child abuse.
Jesus provided healing for our wounded spirits through a series of exchanges on the cross. He was rejected by God and man in order that we might be accepted by God and God’s family. He suffered shame so that we might share in His glory. He died our death in order that we might receive His life.
Recognizing what Christ has done may bring release to some; others may need to take further steps. These are:
1.Let the Holy Spirit help you identify how or where you have been wounded by rejection.
2.Forgive the people who have harmed you.
3.Lay down the destructive fruits of rejection such as resentment, bitterness, hatred, and rebellion.
4.Accept that God has accepted you in Christ.
The primary result of rejection is the inability to receive love from others and to communicate love to them. That is why rejection is one of the greatest hindrances to divine love. God works in our lives to bring us to the knowledge of divine love.
Here I am not referring to the love that God shows toward us but to the way in which God’s love first flows into us and then out through us to the world at large. In this process, there are two successive phases: first, God’s love is outpoured; then God’s love is outworked. The first phase is a tremendous supernatural experience; the second is the gradual, progressive formation of godly character.
It is illuminating to contrast this kind of love with mere human love. In my youth, I especially admired the writings of William Shakespeare. Shakespeare was preoccupied with two human experiences, love and death. He hoped that love would somehow provide an escape from death.
There appeared in his sonnets someone who came to be known as “the dark lady.” She was apparently the object of Shakespeare’s passionate affection but did not fully requite it. In one sonnet, he tried to convince her that though she might grow old, his love through his poetry would make her immortal.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometimes declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
That was the best his love could offer her—the immortality of his poetry. Sure enough, it has lived on for four hundred years, but the lady died.
Shakespeare had a very high expectation of love, and I would say he was probably disappointed. Having gone that way myself, I think I understand his disappointment.
For twenty-five years, I searched for something permanent and satisfying in poetry, philosophy, and the world, with all its pleasures and intellectual challenges. The more I looked, the less satisfied I became. I had no idea what I was looking for. However, when the Lord revealed Himself to me and baptized me in the Holy Spirit, I knew instantly that this was what I had been seeking all the time. I had attended church services for twenty years, but no one had ever told me about it. God poured into my heart an overwhelming love that finally, completely satisfied me.
Now we will explore what happens when we love people with God’s version of love—not Shakespeare’s, but God’s. In Romans, we read this tremendous statement:
And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
(Rom. 5:5 NIV)
Hope, or love, is never disappointed when it is fixed in God because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts—the totality of God’s love. God withholds nothing. He just turns the bucket upside down and pours out the whole thing when He gives us the Holy Spirit.
During World War II, when I served in the British army as a medical orderly or attendant, I was overseas for four-and-a-half years, mainly in North Africa, and then in what was at that time Palestine. I spent one year in the Sudan, which is a bleak, dry, desert land. To the natural human mind, no perception of the Sudan or of the Sudanese people is very attractive. However, I had been baptized in the Holy Spirit, and God had shown me that He had a destiny for me there. He began to give me a supernatural love for the Sudanese.
The army stationed me for a short while at a railway junction in the northern Sudan called Atbara. I was in charge of a small reception station for military patients. I think it had three beds. I worked in liaison with a civilian doctor in the city, but I was my own boss for the first time in my military career. For the first time, too, I had a bed to sleep in. Additionally, among the issued equipment in this reception station were long, white nightgowns. At that time, I had spent about three years sleeping in my underwear, and I was tired of it. So, I availed myself of the facilities, put on a flannel nightgown, and slept in a bed.
One night, as I lay in bed, the Spirit of God came upon me while I was in intercessory prayer for the people of the Sudan. The prayer had nothing to do with my natural feelings toward them at all, but I could not sleep. I was driven by an inner urgency, which I know was the prompting of the Holy Spirit. I found myself praying with a supernatural love far above the level of anything I could achieve by my own reason or emotion.
Sometime in the middle of the night, I got out of bed and began to pace the floor. Suddenly, I was aware that my white nightgown was actually shining. I realized that for those brief moments, I had become identified with our great heavenly Intercessor, the Lord Jesus.
Later, the army transferred me to a small hospital in a miserable place in the Red Sea hills, where the local tribal people were called Hadundawa. They were a wild, fierce people who knew no religion but Islam. About one hundred years previously, they had fought a brief war against the British. At that time, the British soldiers had nicknamed the Hadundawa “fuzzy-wuzzies” because the men fixed their woolly hair with mutton fat in a bushy style that stood out about eight inches from their scalps.
All my fellow soldiers were discontented, but I spent eight of the happiest months of my life there because God had given me His love for those people. As a result, I had the privilege of winning to the Lord the first member of the Hadundawa tribe who had ever professed faith in Christ. When I left, it broke my heart to say good-bye to that man and that place.
In the Sudan at that time, I experienced some small measure of the outpoured love of God for those people. Later, however, I came to understand that this needed to be made complete by God’s love developed in my character.
About a year later in Palestine, when I met my first wife, Lydia, and saw the girls she was caring for, the Lord again filled my heart with His wonderful love. At that time, neither Lydia nor I had any thoughts of marriage, but eventually we were married. God had once again poured out His supernatural love in my heart, but it still did not make me the kind of person I ought to have been. I was often selfish, irritable, impatient, self-centered, and insensitive, none of which exemplified Christ’s character or image.
I came to understand that a supernatural experience of the outpoured love of God is wonderful, but much more needs to be done to form our characters. God has to take us beyond the supernatural outpouring of love to the formation of a character that consistently expresses His love. That is a process, a long process, and it requires God’s patience to take us through it.
In this process of character formation, the wonderful Word of God plays a vital part.
The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
(1 John 2:4-6 NIV)
Notice how this verse mentions the Word of God, not the Spirit of God. We are not talking about a supernatural experience but about the slow, steady formation of character that develops through consistently obeying the Word of God. If we faithfully follow Christ’s guidance by walking as He did in obedience to the Scriptures, God’s love will gradually be brought to completion, or maturity, in us.
That verse is like the two faces of a coin. On the one side, the proof of our love for God is that we obey His Word. It is in vain to claim that we love God when we do not obey His Word. On the other side, as we obey His Word, God works out His love in our characters. These two aspects cannot be separated because they make up a whole.
The process of character building has seven successive phases, according to the apostle Peter:
But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.
(2 Pet. 1:5-7 NKJV)
We start with the foundation: “Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue.” The starting point with everything God does is faith. There is no other place to begin. But after God has given us faith, there has to be a process of character development.
Let us follow these seven successive steps of character building as we find them in 2 Peter 1:5-7.
“Add to your faith virtue.” For the word “virtue,” I like the alternate translation of “excellence.” Excellence is the mark of a Christian. Never be sloppy in anything you do. If you were a janitor before you were saved, be a better janitor afterward. If you were a teacher before, be a better teacher after. If you were a nurse, be a better nurse. We must add excellence to our faith.
For five years, I was principal of a teacher training college in Kenya. My primary purpose was to win my students to Christ. When they professed Christ and were baptized in the Holy Spirit, they would sometimes say to me, “You can go easy on me now” or “You are going to expect less of me because I am a Christian.”
I would reply, “On the contrary, I expect much more of you now. If you could be a teacher without Christ and the baptism, you ought to be twice as good a teacher when you have Christ and the baptism. I am going to expect more, not less.”
God honored my commitment to excellence. The third year I was in charge of that college, the graduating class consisted of fifty-seven well-trained men and women. In the final examinations, every student passed in every subject. A representative of the education department of the Kenyan government who was responsible for teacher training colleges came. He congratulated me personally and said, “In all our records, we have never had results like these.”
It was because I followed the Scriptures’ demand for excellence. Our examination results impressed the secular authorities more than any doctrinal statement we might have issued. Christianity is no excuse for being sloppy. In fact, the sloppy Christian is denying his faith.
“To [excellence add] knowledge.” Primarily, this means the knowledge of God’s will and the knowledge of His Word. Secular knowledge is often important to acquire, especially in developing the necessary skills for your vocation, but even more important is learning what God’s will is for your life in every circumstance, which can be discovered by thoroughly studying His Word.
“To knowledge [add] self-control.” There is a point beyond which you cannot go in character development if you do not learn to control yourself, your emotions, your words, your appetites, and all the things that motivate you.
“To self-control [add] perseverance.” Stick it out! Again, there is a point beyond which you will never advance if you do not learn to persevere. Otherwise, every time you are about to attain the next stage of development, you will give up.
“To perseverance [add] godliness.” Godliness, or holiness, is developed by allowing the Holy Spirit to control your temperament and every aspect of your being.
“To godliness [add] brotherly kindness [or love].” This becomes our corporate testimony to the world. Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 NKJV).
“To brotherly kindness [add] love”—divine, agape love. This is the consummate, ideal, perfect kind of love that God has for us. It begins when the Holy Spirit pours out God’s love in our hearts. However, it comes to its culmination in the development of our characters. The difference between brotherly love and divine love is that in brotherly love, we love our fellow Christians who love us; in divine love, we love those who hate us, persecute us, and are altogether unloving and unlovable.
This brings us right back to the issue of rejection. What is the evidence that you are healed of this wound? Can God give you divine love for the person who has rejected you? Can you go back to an unloving parent and say, “I love you”? Can you say a prayer for your former spouse and ask for God’s blessing on him or her? It is the most unnatural thing in the world, but then God’s love is supernatural—far above anything that proceeds out of our own efforts.
This is perhaps the greatest of all the blessings that follow from the. healing of the wounds of rejection, betrayal, and shame. You can become a vessel of God’s love to others who have been wounded just as you were.
DOES YOUR TONGUE NEED HEALING?
DEATH OR LIFE?
The title for this study is a question: Does Your Tongue Need Healing? As we follow this theme, you may be in for some surprises!
Let me begin by pointing out something very significant about the way in which the Creator designed the human head. Every person has seven openings in his or her head, the number in Scripture that often denotes completeness. We have three pairs of openings: two eyes, two ears, and two nostrils. But the Creator restricted the seventh opening to one, the mouth. I have often asked people, “How many of you wish you had more than one mouth?” But I have never met anyone who did. Most of us have all we can do to use one mouth properly. This one opening causes us more problems than all the other six together!
If you take a Bible concordance and look up all the words related to that one opening, such as mouth, tongue, lips, speech, words, and so on, you will be amazed how much the Bible has to say about this subject, and it is with good reason. There is no area in our personalities more directly related to our total wellbeing than the mouth and tongue.
DEATH OR LIFE?
In the first section of this study, I wish to share a number of passages of Scripture that all emphasize the vital importance of the mouth and the tongue. Then, in subsequent sections, I will deal with principles that arise out of these Scriptures. First, we will consider Psalm 34:11-13:
Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.
The inspired Word of God offers to teach us, as God’s children, the fear of the Lord. I have a series of audio cassettes that point out that there is nothing in all of Scripture to which there is attached greater blessing, fruitfulness, and assurance than the fear of the Lord. So, when the Scripture offers to teach us the fear of the Lord, it is offering something of infinite value and worth. By implication, the psalmist said here that “life” and “many good days” go with the fear of the Lord. In Scripture, life in its fullness and the fear of the Lord are always associated together. The measure in which we have the fear of the Lord is the measure in which we enjoy true life.
Practically speaking, where does the fear of the Lord begin? It is very clear. The psalmist said, “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.” In other words, the first area of our lives in which the fear of the Lord will be practically manifested is our tongues and our lips. If we can keep our tongues from evil and our lips from speaking lies, then we can move on into the fullness of the fear of the Lord.
Out of the fear of the Lord comes “life” and “many good days.” The fear of the Lord, life, good days, and the proper use and control of our tongues and our lips are all bound together. We cannot really have good lives if we do not control our tongues and our lips.
Proverbs 13:3 states the following:
He who guards his lips guards his [soul], but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.
Your soul is your whole personality. It is the real you. This is the area where weakness will be manifested first and where the Enemy will gain access first. If you want to guard your soul, you must guard your lips. But if you speak rashly, you will come to ruin. The alternatives are very clear. If you control the tongue, then you have protection, but if your tongue gets out of control and you are not master of your words, then the end is ruin. It is so clear; there are no blurred edges.
The whole book of Proverbs is full of these principles. Consider Proverbs 21:23:
He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity. (NIV)
Again, the vital area that you must protect is your mouth and your tongue. Once again, the alternatives are black and white. There is no gray. If you guard your mouth and tongue, then you guard your soul and your life. You are safe. But if you fail to do that, the alternative is “calamity.” Calamity is a very strong word, and I believe the Bible uses it deliberately. The failure to guard our lips and our tongues will ultimately bring us to calamity.
There are two other passages in the book of Proverbs concerning the use of the tongue that are particularly significant.
A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit.
(Prov. 15:4 KJV)
Where the King James Version says, “a wholesome tongue,” the literal Hebrew says, “the healing of the tongue.” This clearly indicates that our tongue can need healing. I believe the tongue of every sinner needs healing. The tongue is one area where sin is always manifested in every life. There are some areas in which a sinner may not offend. But the tongue is one area in which every sinner offends, and it must be healed.
“The healing of the tongue ‘is a tree of life.‘” Notice again the close connection between life and the correct use of the tongue. The alternative is, “Perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit.” Perverseness means “the wrong use.” The misuse of the tongue is a breach, or a leak, in the spirit.
I remember once being in a service where a visiting preacher prayed for a certain person and said, “Lord, fill her with the Holy Spirit.”
But the pastor who knew her said, “Don’t, Lord; she leaks.”
Many get filled and blessed, but it runs out through their tongues. You must keep a tight reign on your tongue if you are going to contain the blessing of the Lord. It is one thing to be blessed; it is another thing to contain the blessing. The healing of the tongue is a tree of life that brings life to us and to others. It works inwardly and outwardly.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.
(Prov. 18:21 NAS)
The alternatives are always so clear. It is either death or life. They are both in the power of the tongue. If we use our tongues properly, they will be trees of life. But if we use our tongues improperly, then the result will be death. Whichever way we use our tongues, we can be sure we will eat the fruit. Each one of us eats the fruit of his own tongue. If the fruit is sweet, we will eat sweet fruit. If the fruit is bitter, we will feed on bitter fruit. God has ordained it that way.
The tongue is the decisive member. Death and life are in the power of the tongue.
THE HEART OVERFLOWS THROUGH THE MOUTH
Our theme will be made a little more relevant by an illustration. During World War II, I was a hospital attendant with the British army in North Africa. At one time, I was appointed the NCO in charge of a small reception station in the desert that catered only to dysentery patients.
Each morning, the doctor under whom I worked would summon me, and we would go on rounds of our patients who were all lying there on stretchers right on the sand. I noticed that every morning the doctor always greeted each patient with the same two sentences. The first one was, “Good morning, how are you?” The second one was, “Show me your tongue.”
It was not long before I realized that the doctor paid very little attention to the answer to his question, “How are you?” He always moved on immediately to the next question, “Show me your tongue.” When the patient stuck his tongue out, the doctor looked very carefully at it. Then he formed his estimate of the patient’s condition, much more from looking at his tongue than from the answer the patient actually gave to the question, “How are you?”
That stuck with me, and later, as I moved on into the ministry, many times it occurred to me that God does much the same with us as that doctor did with his patients. God may ask us, “How are you?” and we may give him an estimate of our condition. But I think the next thing that God says, metaphorically, is, “Show me your tongue.” And when God looks at our tongues, then He forms His own estimate of our true spiritual condition. The state of your tongue is a very sure guide to your spiritual condition.
Now we will make a Scriptural application of this. Many passages establish the principle that there is a direct connection between the heart and the mouth. Jesus stated, in Matthew 12:33-37,
Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers [He’s speaking to the religious leaders of His time], how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil. And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned.
Jesus here established the direct connection between the heart and the mouth using parabolic language. He referred to the heart as the tree and to the words that come out of the mouth as the fruit. And the kind of words that come out of your mouth will indicate the condition of your heart. He said, for instance, “The good man out of his good treasure [in his heart] brings forth [good words]; and the evil man out of his evil treasure [in his heart] brings forth [evil words].” You will notice Jesus used the word “good” three times, and He used the word “evil” three times. If the heart is good, then out of the mouth will come words that are good. But if the heart is evil, then out of the mouth will come words that are evil. In Matthew 7:17-18, Jesus expressed the following in similar language:
Every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a [rotten] tree produce good fruit.
The nature of the tree inevitably determines the kind of fruit. Conversely, when we see the kind of fruit, we know the nature of the tree. The tree is the heart, and the fruit is the mouth. If the heart is good, the words that come from the mouth will be good. But if the words that come from the mouth are evil., we know that the heart is evil. You cannot have bad fruit from a good tree, nor can you have good fruit from a bad tree. There is an absolute, inescapable connection between the state of the heart and the state of the mouth.
We may deceive ourselves about the state of our hearts with all sorts of ideas about our own goodness, purity, or righteousness, but the sure and unfailing indicator is what comes out of our mouths. If what comes out of our mouths is corrupt, then our hearts are corrupt. There can be no other conclusion.
When we come to God with an estimate of our own spiritual condition, I think God is prone to respond the same way that the doctor did with his dysentery patients in the desert. You might say, “God, I’m a very good Christian. I really love you, and I go to church.” But God says, “Show me your tongue. When I’ve seen your tongue, I’ll know the real condition of your heart.”
I want to illustrate this by taking two prophetic pictures from the Old Testament: the first is of Christ Himself, the Messiah, and the second is of the bride of Christ, the church. Notice, in each case, the feature that is emphasized first and foremost is the condition of the lips and the mouth. Psalm 45:1-2 gives us a beautiful, prophetic picture of the Messiah:
My heart overflows with a good theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is the pen of a ready writer. [And then these are the words that the writer addresses to the King, to the Messiah:] Thou art fairer than the sons of men; grace is poured upon Thy lips; therefore God has blessed Thee forever.
Here is a picture of the Messiah in His grace, His beauty, and His moral purity. What is the first aspect of that beauty that is manifested? His lips. “Grace,” it says, “is poured upon Thy lips.” Then it says, “Therefore God has blessed Thee forever. “
Two very important principles are given here. First, the grace of the Messiah is manifested primarily in His lips. Second, God has blessed Him forever because of the grace of His lips. When Jesus appeared in human form and men were sent to arrest Him, they came back without Him, and were asked, “Why didn’t you bring him in?” Their answer was, “No one ever spoke the way this man does” (John 7:45-46 NIV). The grace that poured from His lips marked Him out as the Messiah.
In the Song of Solomon, there is a prophetic picture of Christ and His bride and the relationship between them. Song of Solomon 4:3 is addressed to the bride:
Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely. Your temples are like a slice of a pomegranate behind your veil.
The first feature mentioned about the bride is her lips; “Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely.”
The word “scarlet” there indicates sanctification through the blood of Jesus. The lips have been touched by the blood. As a result, the mouth is lovely. Notice that the face is hidden behind a veil: “Your temples are like a slice of a pomegranate,” but they are behind a veil. Still, the voice is heard through the veil. The other beauties are veiled, but the beauty of the voice comes out through the veil. The voice is the thing most manifested. In the same chapter of the Song of Solomon, we read,
Your lips, my bride, drip honey; Honey and milk are under your tongue, And the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon.
(Song 4:11 NAS)
Notice the two distinctive words used of the tongue of the bride: “honey and milk.” They are also the two distinctive features of the Promised Land. The beauty of the Promised Land is seen in the bride and especially in her tongue and in her lips. There is a fragrance associated with these beautiful lips that penetrates the veil. Again, the clear form of the bride is not seen behind the veil, but her voice and her fragrance penetrate the veil due to the beauty of her lips. Her lips are like a thread of scarlet and her mouth is lovely.
Is that true of you and me as followers of Jesus? We need to ask ourselves this question.
THE BIBLICAL PICTURE OF THE TONGUE
We have considered thus far the direct connection between our hearts and our mouths, as summed up in the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:34: “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (NIV). When the heart is filled, it overflows through the mouth, and that overflow tells us the real condition of the heart.
In the Old Testament, there are portraits of Christ and of Christ’s bride. For Christ, the Messiah and His bride, the church, the first feature of the grace of God and spiritual and moral beauty is their lips and their speech.
We are now going to consider a biblical picture of the tongue itself. The epistle of James deals at length with this subject. First, consider some very searching remarks James made about the kind of religion that God accepts and also the kind that He does not accept. James spoke about the kind of religion that is not acceptable to God:
If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.
(James 1:26 NIV)
It does not matter how religious we may claim to be. We may attend church, sing hymns, and do all the other things that are expected of religious people. In themselves, all those things are good. We may do all those things, but if we do not keep our tongues under control, our religion is worthless and unacceptable to God. May God grant that all religious people would face up to this issue.
On the other hand, James spoke about the kind of religion God accepts.
Again, it is different from the practice of the average churchgoer today.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
(James 1:27 NIV)
The first positive requirement of pure religion is not churchgoing or even Bible reading. It is looking after and showing practical love to those who are in need, primarily orphans and widows.
Let me suggest, if you are in any way religious, that you take time to look in this mirror of the Word of God found in James 1:26-27. If you do not control your tongue, your religion is worthless. If you want to have a religion that is accepted by God, it must be demonstrated first and foremost in caring for those who are in need: the orphans and the widows.
I think again about the doctor in the desert when he asked his patients how they felt. He really was not too interested in the answer because the next thing he always said was, “Show me your tongue.”
That is really what James was saying in these two verses. If you want to impress God with your religion, the first thing He will say is, “Show me your tongue.” He is going to judge from your tongue whether your religion is valid and acceptable or not.
James used a number of pictures to illustrate the function of the tongue in our lives. First, James 3:2 says,
We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.
James was saying that if you can control your tongue, you can control your whole life. You are a perfect man if you can control your tongue. Then he goes on in the remainder of this passage to give some illustrations from the natural world. James 3:3-8 continues,
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
James was bringing out the unique significance and influence of the tongue for the whole course of our lives. The first example he used was the bit in the horse’s mouth. He said, “If we succeed in putting a bit in a horse’s mouth, we can turn the whole animal around.”
The horse, in the Bible, is usually a type of physical strength. James was saying that no matter how strong a horse is, if you can get control of its mouth with the bit, you can control the whole animal. The horse’s strength is brought into subjection through the control of its mouth. The same is true with us. What controls our mouths controls the whole course of our lives.
The next example is perhaps a little more vivid. He compared the tongue to the rudder of a ship. A ship may be a great structure but be carried to and fro by the tremendously powerful forces of the winds and the waves. Yet in that ship there is only one decisive, small piece—the rudder. It is the use of the rudder that determines the whole course of the ship. If the rudder is used properly, the ship will arrive safely in the harbor. If the rudder is not used properly, the ship is likely to be shipwrecked.
James said it is the same in our lives. The tongue is the rudder. Our tongues control the course of our lives. If the rudder of the tongue is used properly, we will make it safely to our appointed destinations. But if our tongues are not used properly, we will be shipwrecked.
James also gave the example of a small spark that can start a forest fire. Every year in the United States, billions of dollars of damage is caused by forest fires, and they usually start just the way James said, with a small spark. The forest department of the United States has a very vivid poster that says, “Only you can prevent forest fires.”
That is also true in the spiritual realm. The tongue is like a little spark that can cause a forest fire of vast proportions, causing billions of dollars of damage. Many churches and religious groups no longer exist because one tongue set a spark that burned up the whole thing, which could never be restored.
The final example James used is that of a source of lethal poison. He said the tongue is like a deadly element that can poison us by spreading infection through the whole system of our lives.
Consider those examples again: the bit in the horse’s mouth, the rudder in the ship, the spark that starts a forest fire, and a poison that is injected into the life stream. The principle underlying each of these illustrations is the same: the tongue is a small part of the body, but it is able to cause inestimable damage that might never be undone.
James went on to point out, once more, the inconsistencies of religious people:
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
(vv. 9-12 NIV)
James was saying exactly the same thing Jesus said. If the tree is good, the fruit will be good. If you have a fig tree in your heart, you will get figs out of your mouth. But if you have a vine in your heart, you will never get figs out of your mouth. What comes out of your mouth indicates what is in your heart.
It is the same, he said, with the flow of water. If the water that comes out of your mouth is fresh, then the spring that is in your heart is fresh. But if the water that comes out of your mouth is salty and brackish, then the spring of your heart is salty and brackish. So what comes out of the mouth inevitably indicates the true condition of the heart.
WORDS DETERMINE DESTINY
The essence of the different pictures that James used to illustrate the function of the tongue in our lives is the same: the tongue is something small in itself but capable of causing incalculable harm if left unchecked. Of the four particular pictures that I referred to (the bit in the horse’s mouth, the rudder in the ship, a spark that starts a forest fire, and a source of poison that corrupts the whole life stream), the one that best illustrates the tremendous potential of the tongue is that of the rudder in the ship.
The rudder is visually just a small part of the ship that is down below the surface. You do not see it when you look at the ship sailing on the surface of the water. Yet that small part, which is not normally visible to the eye, determines the direction of the ship. If the rudder is used correctly, the ship will make it safely to its destined harbor. But if the rudder is misused, almost certainly the ship will suffer shipwreck. The rudder determines the course and the destiny of the entire ship.
The Bible says the tongue is like that in our bodies. When we look at people from outward appearances, normally we do not even see their tongues. Yet that small, unnoticed member is just like the rudder in the ship. The tongue’s use determines the course of the person’s life. It determines his or her destiny.
To continue our study, we want to consider an example from the history of Israel that drives home this lesson with inescapable clarity. The lesson to learn is this: Men determine their own destinies by the way they use their tongues.
The incident we are going to look at is found in the book of Numbers, chapters 13 and 14. The Israelites had come out of Egypt and were on their way to the Promised Land. God arranged with Moses to send twelve men ahead of them to spy out the land: to find out its general character, the nature of the inhabitants, the kind of cities, the kind of fruit, and to bring back a report. One leader was chosen from each of the twelve tribes to go ahead into the land. They spent forty days walking through the land and then they came back with their report. The report they brought back is given to us in Numbers 13:26-28:
And they [the twelve spies] went and came to Moses, and to Aaron, and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh; and brought back word unto them, and unto all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, and said, We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it. [The fruit was so heavy that it took two men to carry one bunch of grapes on a staff between them. But this is what they said next:] Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak [the giants] there.
When God gives you a promise, are you going to accept the promise at its face value, or are you going to accept it and then say “nevertheless“? That was a fatal word that caused the people to be disturbed and distressed.
Two of the spies, however, Caleb and Joshua, refused to go along with this negative attitude. In Numbers 13:30-31, we read this:
And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it. But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.
Let us take notice of the words that were used. Caleb said, “We are well able to overcome it.” The other ten spies said, “We be not able.” One set of spies said the positive: “We are able.” The other set said the negative: “We are not able.” As you follow the story, you will see that each group got exactly what they said. Each group’s destiny was settled by their words.
And the LORD said, I have pardoned according to thy word: but as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD. Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice; surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it: but my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it.
(Num. 14:20-24 KJV)
By his positive confession, Caleb settled his destiny for the positive.
Numbers 14:26-32 continues,
And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against me. Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith the LORD, as ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you: your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me, doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised. But as for you, your carcases, they shall fall in this wilderness.
Notice the words, “As ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you.” God is saying, in effect, “You have settled what I will do to you by the words that you have spoken.”
And the men, which Moses sent to search the land, who returned, and made all the congregation to murmur against him, by bringing up a slander upon the land, even those men that did bring up the evil report upon the land, died by the plague before the LORD. [They settled their own deaths. They spoke words of death, and death was the outcome.] But Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of the men that went to search the land, lived still.
(vv. 36-38 KJV)
Death and life are in the power of the tongue. How much more clearly could that be illustrated? The men who spoke negatively settled for death. The men who spoke positively received life. They settled their own destinies by what they spoke. The ones who said, “We are not able,” were not able. The ones who said, “We are able,” were able.
In the New Testament, our experience as Christians is directly compared to that of Israel in the Old Testament. We are warned that the same lessons apply to us. Hebrews 4:1-2 reads,
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel [the Good News] preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.
The same promise that God gave to Israel still stands for us—a promise of entering into the rest of God—but we must be careful that we do not fall short of it in the same way that they did in the Old Testament. Their problem was that they heard the message, a promise from God, but they added that one fatal word “nevertheless.” Instead of focusing on the promise of God and boldly confessing their faith in God’s promise and power, they focused on the negative. They looked at the giants and the walled cities and said, “We are not able.” Thank God for two men who had the faith and the courage to say, “We are well able” (Num. 13:30).
When you face God’s promise concerning a certain situation, what are you going to do with your tongue? Are you going to give assent to the promise of God? Are you going to identify yourself with the promise of God and say, “God said it; I’m able.” Or are you going to be one of those who say, “Nevertheless, look at all the problems. God said it, but somehow I don’t feel able.” Remember, just as those spies settled their destinies with their tongues by the words that they spoke, so the same lesson applies to whoever has heard the Gospel. We likewise settle our destinies by the words that we speak.
Ten of the twelve spies focused on the problems, not on the promises. Two of the twelve spies, Joshua and Caleb, focused on the promises, not on the problems. Joshua and Caleb said, “We are well able.” The other spies said, “We are not able.” Each got exactly what they said. They all settled their own destinies by the way they used their tongues.
DISEASES OF THE TONGUE
e have studied an example from the Old Testament that illustrates how “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21 NAS). We learned that the right use of the tongue will impart life, and, conversely, the wrong use will impart death.
Now we will consider certain specific diseases that affect our tongues. These six diseases that commonly infect our lives through the misuse of our tongues can, in some cases, be fatal if left unchecked.
DISEASE NUMBER ONE: EXCESSIVE TALKING
This disease is so common that people accept it as normal when it is not. “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise” (Prov. 10:19 NIV). Another version of the same Scripture verse reads, “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise” (NAS). In other words, if you say too much, you are bound to say something wrong. There is no alternative.
We are also warned in the Bible not to use too many words toward God Himself. This is a warning that most of us really need to hear. This admonition is found in Ecclesiastes 5:1-2:
Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.
(Eccl. 5:1-2 NIV)
Somebody said to me once, “Remember, it’s just as much a sin to sing a lie as it is to tell a lie.” I have heard people sing hymns of total consecration and surrender to God, such as, “All to Jesus, I surrender.” Then, when the offering plate comes around, they drop in a quarter. The two actions are not consistent. If you are not going to give your life to God, do not tell Him that you are surrendering all, because God is going to hold you to account for the words you speak (or sing) in His presence.
A little further on in the same chapter, the Scripture indicates that an angel records what we say when we are speaking, praying, or worshipping. One day, we are going to be confronted by that angel and the record of what we have said. Then, the Bible says, it will be too late to say “I didn’t really mean it,” because we will be held accountable for all we have said, sung, or prayed. One day, those words are going to be held up before us, and we are going to have to answer for them if we have been insincere and have not really lived according to the things we have said.
The next verse, Ecclesiastes 5:3, continues, “As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words” (NIV). To use too many words is the mark of a fool. The King James Version of Ecclesiastes 5:3 is even more blunt: “For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool’s voice is known by multitude of words.”
When you hear a person continually talking, you need no other evidence: that person is a fool. “A fool’s voice, is known by multitude of words.” What is the root problem? I believe it is restlessness. Compare that to what James said in James 3:8: “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (NIV).
People who are always talking are restless people, and our contemporary culture is filled with them. Have you ever been with somebody who made your head swim by all the words that came out of his or her mouth? What is the root problem? Restlessness. Excessive talking is a sure indication of someone whose heart is not at rest.
DISEASE NUMBER TWO: IDLE OR CARELESS WORDS
In Matthew 12:36, Jesus said this:
But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.
One day, we are going to have to answer for every word we have spoken. We are going to have to answer for words that were idle, insincere, that we did not really mean, that we were not prepared to stand behind, or that were not worked out in our lives.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated the following in Matthew 5:37:
Simply let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No”; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
That is an astonishing statement. If we say more than we mean, then the exaggeration (unnecessary emphasis or overdoing) in our speech comes from the Evil One.
Let me sum it up in just one simple word of advice: If you don’t mean it, don’t say it. If you will follow that one rule, I promise you, it will change your whole life. You will be a different person. If you will keep that rule for one year, I promise you that a year from now you will be a different and a much better person.
DISEASE NUMBER THREE: GOSSIP
Do not go about spreading slander among your people.
(Lev. 19:16 NIV)
Going about spreading slander—idle, untrue, exaggerated, malicious talk—is gossip. The very title of Satan in the New Testament, the word rendered “devil,” means “a slanderer” in Greek. That is its root meaning and the main description of Satan in the Bible. If you gossip or tell tales, you are actually doing the Devil’s work for him. You are a representative of Satan. Not only must we be careful not to give out gossip, we have a responsibility not to receive gossip, also.
The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.
(Prov. 18:8 NIV)
How true that is of human nature. When we hear something about someone that is bad or shows them in a bad light, something in the human heart rejoices. “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels.” Be careful that when one of those choice morsels of gossip is placed in front of you, you do not swallow it. They are poisoned. They taste sweet but they poison us. And as we receive these morsels of gossip into our hearts, our lives will become poisoned by them.
A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much.
(Prov. 20:19 NIV)
See how closely these various diseases are related. If you listen to a gossip, you become an accessory after the fact. If you receive somebody who has stolen something and accept those stolen goods from them, then in legal terms you become an accessory after the fact. So, if you entertain a gossip and listen to their words, you become an accessory to the gossip. This is what God says in Psalm 15:1-3:
O LORD, who may abide in Thy tent? Who may dwell on Thy holy hill? He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart. He does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend.
There are various requirements for access to God’s presence, in order to “dwell on [His] holy hill.” We must walk with integrity; we must work righteousness; we must speak the truth in our hearts.
Then three things we must not do are listed. We must not slander with our tongues, and we must not do evil to our neighbors. Also, we must not take up a reproach, or receive a reproach, against our friends.
It is not enough that we do not slander; we must not receive the slanderer. We must not take up a reproach against someone whom we know. We must not eat those choice morsels of the gossip because they are poison, and many relationships are poisoned by eating them.
DISEASE NUMBER FOUR: LYING
We need to be careful that we use the right word to describe this disease of the tongue. Somebody has used the phrase, “evang-e-l-a-s-t-i-c-ally speaking.” The evangelist sees two hundred people come forward in his crusade, and by the time the report is in his newsletter, it is five hundred. What is that—exaggeration or lying? It is really lying. I do not mention this to be critical of others. It is important that every one of us be very careful that we are not found guilty of lying.
In Proverbs 6:16-19, the writer tells of seven things that the Lord hates. Hate is a very strong word. This is what it says:
There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.
Out of those seven specific things that the Lord hates, there are three that are related to the tongue: first, “a lying tongue”; second, “a false witness” (obviously that affects the tongue also); third, “a man who stirs up dissension among brothers” (and normally the way that dissension is stirred up is by words). So, out of seven things that the Lord hates, there are three that affect the tongue, and of those three, two are specifically connected with lying. This is stated again in Proverbs 12:22:
The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.
In that verse, we have two sets of opposites. We have the word detest and the word delight. “The LORD detests lying lips…he delights in men who are truthful.” There is nothing in between.
Then we have the other two opposites: “lying” and “truthful.” Again, there is nothing in between. If it is not truthful, it is a lie. If it is a lie, the Lord detests it. If it is truthful, the Lord delights in it.
Our problem is that we have so many gray areas in our thinking. But I question whether those gray areas are found in Scripture. If traced to its source, every lie comes from the Devil. That is a frightening thought, but I will back it up with the words of Jesus Himself. Speaking to the religious leaders of His day (and bear in mind, they were very religious people), Jesus said,
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
(John 8:44 NIV)
Every time a lie passes through our lips, it comes from the Devil.
One more very important, frightening fact about the disease of lying is that unless the disease is arrested and healed, it is fatal.
But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.
(Rev. 21:8 NIV)
Notice the groups of people: “the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars.” The result of that disease is incurable. There is no way out: “their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur.” Once a person is consigned to that “second death,” it is ultimate. I repeat what I said: Unless this disease of lying is arrested and healed, it is sure to be fatal!
Revelation 22:15 speaks about the city of God:
Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood [or lies].
So, each of us must determine: Am I willing to be healed of this disease of lying, or am I prepared to lose my soul forever? Unless arrested and healed, the disease of lying is ultimately fatal.
DISEASE NUMBER FIVE: FLATTERY
Help, LORD, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men. Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception. May the LORD cut off all flattering lips and every boastful tongue.
(Ps. 12:1-3 NIV)
In this Scripture, David was speaking about a state of moral decline in the human race. I believe it is not unlike what we see around us today. Godly men are difficult to find. The faithful have vanished. What is the result? “Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception.” A judgment of God is pronounced by the Scripture upon these flattering lips: “May the LORD cut off all flattering lips and every boastful tongue.”
In Proverbs 26:28, we are warned, “A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin” (NIV). If we listen to and receive flattery, or if we become flatterers, the end is ruin. “Whoever flatters his neighbor is spreading a net for his feet” (Prov. 29:5 NIV).
After many years in the ministry, I have learned by practical experience that this is true. There are people who will speak flattering words, but they are not sincere. There is another motive behind it. And many times, if it had not been the grace of God, my feet would have been caught in that net of flattery. I would have been led into some commitment or some relationship that was outside the will of God. So bear that in mind: “A flattering mouth works ruin,” and “Whoever flatters his neighbor is spreading a net for his feet.”
DISEASE NUMBER SIX: HASTINESS OF SPEECH
Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
(Prov. 29:20 NAS)
This verse says if we are hasty in our words, our condition is worse than that of a fool. That is a solemn statement because the Bible has nothing good to say about the fool.
There is one example in Scripture of a man who was hasty in his words just once, and it tells of the price it cost him. The man was Moses. He was told by God to go ahead of the children of Israel, speak to a rock, and it would bring forth water. But he was so angry with the children of Israel that he said to them, “You rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock” (Num. 20:10 NIV). Then, instead of speaking to the rock, he smote it. (See Numbers 20:7-12.) That act of disobedience, expressed in hasty words, cost him the privilege of leading the children of Israel into the Promised Land. This is described in Psalm 106:32-33:
They [the children of Israel] angered him [Moses] also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses for their sakes: because they provoked his spirit, so that he spake unadvisedly with his lips.
Notice the diagnosis. A provoked spirit causes us to speak unadvisedly with our lips, and these hasty words cost us many privileges and blessings. If Moses had to pay that price for that one hasty statement, let us beware that we do not also say things hastily that will cost us dearly in the spiritual realm.
THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
God has made a provision in Scripture for the healing of our tongues. The first step in acquiring this is to identify the root of the problem. The testimony of Scripture is clear and unequivocal: the root of every problem affecting our tongues is in our hearts.
In Matthew 12:33-35, Jesus said,
Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.
The heart is the tree and the words are the fruit. The words that come out of the mouth indicate the condition of the heart. If the heart is good, the words will be good. If the heart is evil, the words will be evil. Our hearts are either good or evil all the way through. Whatever flows out of your mouth indicates the contents of your heart.
If you accidentally spill some water from a pail onto the kitchen floor and see that the water you spilled is dirty and greasy, you do not need to examine the water that is left in the bucket. You know it is dirty and greasy. The same applies to our hearts. If evil, impure, unbelieving, corrupt words come out of our mouths, then that indicates the same condition prevails in our hearts.
Compare the text from Matthew with James 3:9-12, where James spoke about the inconsistencies of religious people:
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise [or blessing] and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
James combined two pictures there. The one is of a spring of water; the other is of a tree. He said that an olive tree will never bear another kind of fruit, such as figs. The kind of tree indicates the kind of fruit. James was using the same picture as Jesus. The tree is the heart and the fruit is the words that come out of the mouth. He also used another picture, a spring of water. He says that if brackish, salty water comes out of a spring, you know the water in the spring is brackish and salty.
These two pictures are parallel but not identical. The two trees represent two natures. The corrupt tree is the old man or the old person. The good tree is the new man in Jesus Christ. The old man cannot bring forth good fruit. Jesus said that clearly many times. Out of that old, carnal nature will always come fruit that corresponds to that nature. The fountain, or the spring, represents something spiritual. A pure spring is the Holy Spirit. A corrupt, brackish, salty, impure spring is another spirit.
Therefore, we have two potential problems indicated by the mouth: first, the old, corrupt nature that has not been changed goes on producing corrupt fruit; and second, some kind of spirit, which is not the Holy Spirit, brings forth impure, brackish water. The essence of the teaching is the same in both: What is inside us, the condition of our hearts, determines what comes out of our mouths. So, the problem of the tongue takes us back inevitably to the problem of the heart.
We are confronted by the truth that Solomon spoke in Proverbs 4:23:
Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.
The word “wellspring” agrees with the picture that James used of a fountain or a spring that brings forth the kind of water that is characteristic of that spring. Another translation of Proverbs 4:23 says,
Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.
Whatever flows out in your life or through your mouth originates in your heart. If the source is pure, what comes out will be pure. If the source is corrupt, what comes out will be corrupt.
With this, we can compare the words of Hebrews 12:15-16:
See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.
Esau was entitled to the birthright, but he sold it and lost it. We can have a birthright or a promise from God, but if we do not conduct ourselves rightly, we will lose our birthright and our inheritance just like the ten spies who came with the negative report.
The reason why Esau acted like that is traced back to a root of bitterness in his heart. He was bitter against his brother Jacob. This root of bitterness in his heart brought forth bitter fruit in his life that corrupted his life and caused him to lose his birthright. (See Genesis 25:19-34.) Therefore, the root of the problem was in his heart.
Scripture warns us that if there is a root of bitterness in the heart of any one of us, others may be defiled by it. The corrupt, negative use of the tongue is infectious. The ten spies came back with a negative report. They corrupted the whole nation. The whole nation was infected with that negative disease. That is one reason why God treats it so seriously. It is an infectious disease.
There are other examples of evil roots in our hearts that express themselves through our tongues and cause problems hat rob us of the blessings that God desires us to have. We can have roots of resentment, unbelief, impurity, or pride. Whatever the nature of the roots in our hearts, they will manifest themselves in the way we speak. We may want to be gracious and kind, but a root of resentment will poison our words with a kind of resentful spirit. We will try to say nice things, but they will not come out right. We may claim to be believers, but a root of unbelief will cause us to do as the ten spies and add our “nevertheless” to God’s promises. The same is true of impurity and pride.
Let me remind you of the story about the doctor in the desert checking his dysentery patients. The first question was, “Good morning, how are you?” But he did not really care much about the answer to that question. The second request was, “Show me your tongue.” How would you respond if God said to you, “Show me your tongue”?
FIRST STEPS TO HEALING
Let us look at three simple, practical, scriptural steps to dealing with the problem of your tongue. By following these three steps, you can be delivered from any diseases of your tongue.
STEP NUMBER 1: CALL YOUR PROBLEM BY ITS RIGHT NAME: SIN
It is important that we become honest. As long as we use some fancy, psychological terminology to cover, condone, excuse or pretend that our problems are not really there, nothing will happen. We must come to the moment of honesty. I have seen this many times in God’s dealings, both with me and with many other people. When we come to the moment of truth, God moves in and helps us. As long as we try to excuse, cover up, or misrepresent our problems, God does nothing for us. Sometimes we say, “God, why don’t you help me?” God replies (we may not hear Him, but God replies), “I’m waiting for you to be honest—honest with yourself and honest with Me.”
That is the first and the most important step. Once you take that step, you are well on the way to the steps that follow. Call your problem by its right name: sin.
Religious people have many different ways of excusing or glossing over the misuse of their tongues. We think it does not matter much what we say, but God says it makes all the difference. In fact, you have seen that you settle your destiny by what you say. Jesus said, “By your words you shall he justified, and by your words you shall be condemned” (Matt. 12:37 NAS). It is a serious matter. Do not trifle with it. Come to the moment of truth and say, “I have a problem: it is sin.” When you have come there you are ready to take the second step.
STEP NUMBER 2: CONFESS YOUR SIN AND RECEIVE FORGIVENESS AND CLEANSING
First John 1:7-9 illustrates this clearly:
If we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Again, we see the importance of being honest. The blood of Jesus does not cleanse in the dark. Only when we come to the light can we receive the cleansing of the blood of Jesus. If we are walking in the light, the blood of Jesus Christ continually cleanses us and keeps us pure from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, which I have pointed out to be the real problem, we are deceiving ourselves. The truth is not in us and we are not in the light. We are still in the dark where God’s provision does not work.
Then we come to the alternative. If we confess our sins, come to the light, and acknowledge the real nature and the seriousness of our problems, then God “is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Two words are used, “faithful” and “righteous.” God is faithful because He has promised, and He will keep His promise. God is righteous, and Jesus has already paid the penalty for our sins; therefore, He can forgive us without compromising His justice.
If we confess our sins, the guarantee of Scripture is that God, in faithfulness and in justice, will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. God not only forgives but, even more important, He cleanses. Once our hearts are cleansed, because the heart is the wellspring of life, we do not go on committing the same sins.
If you believe that your sins are forgiven but you find experientially that you have not been cleansed, I would like to question whether you have really been forgiven. The same God who forgives, also cleanses. The same Scripture that promises forgiveness also promises cleansing. God never stops halfway. If we meet the conditions, we get the whole packet. If we do not meet the conditions, we do not get half, we get nothing. “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Once our hearts are cleansed, then the problem will not be there. Remember, the condition of the heart determines what comes out of the mouth. A clean heart cannot produce unclean utterances. Unclean utterances indicate an unclean heart.
First, if we come to the light, confess, and turn to God with the problem, then God is faithful and righteous to forgive. The record of the past is blotted out, and all those things you wish you had never said are blotted out. Second, God cleanses your heart. Then, out of a clean, pure heart, what comes through your lips will be clean and pure. If your heart glorifies God, then your lips will glorify God. God solves the problem of the tongue and of the lips by dealing with the condition of the heart.
STEP NUMBER 3: REFUSE SIN; YIELD TO GOD
There is a negative and a positive that go together like the two opposite sides of the same coin. You must exercise your will both ways. You must say no to sin and yes to God. You must do both. You cannot say no to sin without saying yes to God, because you will be in a vacuum that will be filled again with the same problem. You cannot escape from sin without yielding to God.
In Romans 6:12-14, Paul said,
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members [or the parts of your body] as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.
When sin challenges you, say, “No, I will not yield to you; I will not yield the parts of my body. Above all, I will not yield that member that causes most of the trouble: my tongue. Sin, you cannot control my tongue any longer.”
Then turn to God and say, “God, I yield my tongue to You, and I ask You to control the member that I cannot control.” Let us look at what James said:
For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed, and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.
You must accept the fact that you cannot tame or control your own tongue. Only one power can control your tongue for good: the power of God through the Holy Spirit. When you have been forgiven and cleansed and then are challenged again to use your tongue sinfully, you must say to sin, “You cannot have my tongue; I refuse it to you.” Then you must say to the Holy Spirit, “Holy Spirit, I yield my tongue to you. I cannot control my tongue. I ask you to control my tongue for me.”
Let us just briefly review those three steps. First, call your problem by its right name—call it sin. Second, confess your sin, and receive forgiveness and cleansing. Third, refuse to yield to sin; determine to yield to God. That is the climax of the process of deliverance and of healing. It is yielding to God the Holy Spirit that member that you can never control.
THE REASON YOU HAVE A TONGUE
We have already seen that the root of every problem affecting our tongues is in our hearts. Obviously, this means that in order to deal with problems affecting our tongues, we must first deal with the root problems in our hearts.
We considered the three steps we must take to deal with these root problems in our hearts that are manifested through our tongues. First, call your problem by its right name, which is sin. Come to the moment of truth. God will only deal with you on the basis of truth. God is the God of Truth. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth.
Second, confess and receive forgiveness and cleansing on the basis of the promise in 1 John 1:9:
If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
God not only forgives the past, He cleanses the heart so that the problem itself is dealt with at the root. Then there is a change in the fruit that comes out of the heart.
Third, refuse sin, and yield to God. Say no to sin and yes to God. Refuse sin, and yield to the Holy Spirit. The only power in the universe that can control your tongue effectively for good is the Holy Spirit.
Let us deal more fully with the positive aspect of this third step: yielding our tongues to God.
First, we need to understand the real reason why the Creator gave each of us a mouth with a tongue in it. There is an answer to this in Scripture but it is one of those interesting examples of truth in Scripture that can only be found by comparing two passages of Scripture and setting them side by side. As we do this, there comes a revelation that is not given to us solely in one of the two passages.
In this case, the two passages that I have in mind are taken from the Old and New Testaments. In the New Testament, the Old Testament passage is quoted in a way that brings out a meaning that is not apparent in the Old Testament. The Old Testament passage is Psalm 16:8-9:
I have set the LORD continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will dwell securely.
Please focus on the phrase, “my glory rejoices.” On the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit of God fell and the crowd gathered to know the reason, Peter preached his famous sermon. He referred to everything that happened in the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus. He quoted various passages from the Old Testament to prove that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and the Son of God. One of the passages he quoted was the one in Psalm 16:8-9. The quotation is found in Acts 2:25-26, where Peter said this:
For David says of Him, “I was always beholding the Lord in my presence; for He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. therefore my heart was glad and my tongue exulted; moreover my flesh also will abide in hope.”
Now, we put together these two key phrases: Psalm 16:9, “my glory rejoices”; and Acts 2:26, quoting the same passage, “My tongue exulted.” Where David said in the Psalm “my glory,” Peter, inspired and interpreted by the Holy Spirit, said “My tongue.” This tells us something very profound and important: our tongues are our glory. You might ask why. The answer is because the Creator gave each of us a tongue for one supreme purpose—to glorify Him. The only reason for a tongue is that with it you and I may glorify God. That is why our tongues become our glory. It is the member by which, above all others, we may glorify the Creator. This leads to a consequence of great importance. Every use of our tongue that does not glorify God is a misuse because we were given our tongues to glorify God.
We can look at that well-known statement of Paul in Romans 3:23:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
The essence of sin is not necessarily committing some terrible crime. The essence of sin is falling short of the glory of God or not living for God’s glory. People might argue with that and say, “It’s not true of me; I have never fallen short of the glory of God.”
But I ask you to check the use of your tongue. Remember, the only reason you have a tongue is to glorify God. Every use of your tongue that does not glorify God is a misuse. I do not believe that there is one of us who could honestly say that we have always used our tongues for the glory of God. Therefore, we must acknowledge the truth of Paul’s statement that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. If this is not true in any other area, then it is true in the area of our tongues.
Two different kinds of fire meet on the human tongue. First, there is a fire from hell that inflames the tongue of the natural, unregenerate, sinful man. James said,
The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
(James 3:6 NIV)
This fire in the human tongue comes from hell itself, and its fruit—its results and consequences—are hellish. But on the Day of Pentecost, when God brought into being the redeemed community that He wanted to use for His glory in the earth, another kind of fire came from another source. The fire of the Holy Sprrit came from heaven, not from hell. It first operated in the tongues of those in the Upper Room. In other words, the fire of God from heaven drove out the natural tongue’s fire of hell. The fire from hell was replaced by a fire that cleanses, purifies and glorifies God. Consider Acts 2:1-4:
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them [Note that there was a tongue of fire for each one]. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Notice the Spirit operated first in their tongues. The fire of God from heaven gave them a new way to use their tongues. Then the Scripture makes it plain that everything they said after that, through the Holy Spirit, glorified God. They were using their tongues for the purpose God had given them tongues.
The key to this problem is yielding our tongues to the Holy Spirit. This is clearly stated by Paul in Ephesians 5:17-18:
Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. [The next verse tells us the Lord’s will:] Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
We need to put those two things together. It is sinful to get drunk on wine, but it is also sinful not to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The positive commandment is just as valid as the negative. Do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Holy Spirit. In a sense, it is two different kinds of drunkenness, if you can accept that, because on the Day of Pentecost, when the men and women were first filled with the Holy Spirit, the mockers said, “They’re drunk.” In a certain sense, they were inebriated, but with a totally different kind of inebriation. They were not drunk with wine, but they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Then Paul went on,
Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(vv. 19-20 NIV)
Notice the word “speak,” which comes after the injunction, “Be filled with the Spirit.” There are fifteen places in the New Testament where it speaks about people either being filled with or full of the Holy Spirit. And in every place, the initial manifestation came through the mouth. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34 NKJV).
When you are filled with the Holy Spirit, the first manifestation will come out of your mouth, through your tongue. Instead of murmuring, complaining, criticizing, and giving vent to unbelief, Paul said that you will speak, sing, make music, and give thanks. The whole use of your tongue will be positive, not negative.
The solution to every problem of sin in our lives must be a positive one. It is not enough to give up sinning; we must have righteousness. It is not enough to deny your tongue to the Devil; you must yield your tongue to the Holy Spirit. Be filled with the Holy Spirit and speak: that is the remedy.
THE IMPORTANCE OF YOUR CONFESSION
We need to see how the right use of the tongue links us in a very special way to Jesus Christ as our High Priest. The high priesthood of Jesus is an eternal ministry that goes on continually in heaven. After He had dealt with our sins, died, risen again, and ascended into heaven, He entered into a ministry as our High Priest forever, always representing us in God’s presence. He is our High Priest on the condition that we make the right confession with our tongues.
This is what the writer of Hebrews said:
Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession.
(Heb. 3:1 NAS)
Note that last phrase. Jesus is the “High Priest of our confession.” It is our confession that links us to Jesus as High Priest. If we merely believe but make no confession, then His high priesthood cannot operate on our behalf. It is on the basis of our spoken confession, not of our unspoken faith, that Jesus operates in heaven as our High Priest.
It is tremendously important that we make and maintain the right confession. The word “confession” means, literally, “to say the same thing as.” In this usage, confession is saying the same thing with our mouths as God says in the Scripture. It is making the words of our mouths agree with the Word of God in the Scripture.
When we make the words of our mouths agree in faith with what God has said in the Bible, that enables Jesus to exercise His high priestly ministry as our representative in the presence of God. If we make the wrong confession, we frustrate His ministry. It depends on our making the right confession. It is our confession that links us to Jesus as our High Priest. This is brought out twice more in Hebrews. The first reference is in Hebrews 4:14:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
It is our confession that continues to link us to Jesus as our High Priest. And again, we read in Hebrews,
And since we have a great [High] priest over the house of God…let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
(Heb. 10:21, 23 NAS)
Every time the Bible speaks about Jesus as our High Priest, it says we must make, maintain, and hold fast the confession of our faith and our hope. It is our confession that links us to Jesus as our High Priest. If we do not maintain that confession, we frustrate His ministry on our behalf. Right confession is actually essential for salvation.
The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
(Rom. 10:8-10 KJV)
Again, as we have seen all the way through, there is a direct link between the heart and the mouth. Jesus said, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34 NIV). Salvation depends on two things: exercising faith in our hearts and making the right confession with our mouths.
In the Bible, salvation is the great all-inclusive word for all the blessings and provisions of God that have been obtained for us through the death of Jesus Christ. It includes spiritual, physical, financial, temporal, and eternal blessings. All those blessings purchased by the death of Jesus are summed up in the word salvation.
To enter into the fullness of God’s salvation in every area of our lives, we have to make the right confession. In every area, whatever it may be, we must say the same with our mouths as God says in His Word. When our confession agrees with the Word of God, we are moving into the full provision of God in salvation, and we have the ministry of Jesus as our High Priest operative on our behalf in heaven. With Him standing behind us on the basis of our confession, there is nothing that can hinder us or keep us from moving on into the fullness of our salvation. Our confession links us to Jesus as our High Priest. That is why what we say with our mouths determines our experience.
Let us return briefly to the illustration of the tongue as the rudder of the human life.
Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body.
(James 3:4-5 NIV)
What the rudder is to the ship, the tongue is to the body or to the life. The right use of the rudder directs the ship properly. The wrong use brings shipwreck. The same is true with the tongue. The right use of the tongue brings success and salvation in its fullness. The wrong use brings shipwreck and failure.
The ship is steered with a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. A great ocean liner may have a captain with many years of experience, but when he comes into a harbor, he is not permitted to berth that ship himself. It is an almost unvarying rule that the captain must take a pilot on board and allow the pilot to assume responsibility for the use of the rudder and the berthing of the ship.
You and I may feel we are capable of handling our lives, but there are situations in which we cannot manage. We must take a pilot on board and let him assume responsibility. Can you guess who the pilot is? Of course! The pilot is the Holy Spirit. Only the Holy Spirit can enable us always to use our tongues rightly and to make the right confession.
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Faith. When He motivates and controls our words and speech, they become positive. Our speech then honors God and brings the blessings of God into our lives. Every one of us needs the Holy Spirit to pilot our lives by controlling our tongues. He is the ultimate solution to the problem of the human tongue.
God permits us to come to a place of failure. He says, “None of you can control your own tongues.” And then He says, “But I have a Pilot. Will you invite the Pilot on board?” All you need to do is simply respond with a prayer such as this:
Holy Spirit, I really cannot control my tongue aright. Come in and take control. I yield to You. Give me a tongue that glorifies God. Amen.
HOW TO FAST SUCCESSFULLY
WHAT IS FASTING?
The theme of this study is “How to fast successfully.” This subject does not readily lend itself to a sermon, but rather to some practical teaching on various aspects of fasting. Many people ask: “How do I fast? How long do I fast? How often should I fast? How should I break my fast?” The purpose of this study is to answer these questions and to clear up some misconceptions about fasting.
I think it is good to begin with a definition of fasting. The definition I have used several times is: Fasting is abstaining from food for spiritual purposes. Normally, fasting is not abstaining from fluids, but only from solid food. Although there were occasions in the Bible when people did fast without food or without water for as long as forty days, for this study we will consider fasting as abstaining from food for spiritual purposes.
Many of the people who have asked, “How do I fast?” have been Christians and members of churches for many years. Yet, apparently no one has ever taught them about fasting, even though the Bible has much to say about the subject. Since most of these people know something about prayer, it may be good to begin by pointing out a parallel between fasting and praying.
In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6, when Jesus spoke first about praying and then about fasting, He used similar language in talking about both topics. The main difference is that when He talked about praying, He included a pattern prayer that we call the Lord’s Prayer. But I think there is a basic parallel between fasting and praying, and I’ll point out two aspects of it.
We all know we can pray as individuals, and most of us are also familiar with praying in groups. Group praying we usually refer to as a prayer meeting. Individual praying is what we do when we’re by ourselves. I believe there is the same distinction in fasting: there is group fasting, where people fast together; and there is individual fasting, where a person fasts on his own.
We are also familiar with two kinds of prayer: regular prayer at a set time each day, and special times of prayer when the Holy Spirit leads us to take extra time beyond our usual pattern of prayer for a special need. The same, I believe, is true of fasting. I think fasting should be a regular practice in the life of every disciplined Christian. But beyond those regular times of fasting, there are times when the Holy Spirit leads us to give additional emphasis to fasting.
So we see that there is a parallel between praying and fasting. Just as there is individual prayer and collective prayer, so there is also individual fasting and collective fasting. Just as there are normal patterns of prayer and there are times of special prayer, so there should be normal patterns of fasting in the life of every Christian and there should be special times of fasting as the Holy Spirit leads.
SHOULD ALL CHRISTIANS FAST?
If we go to the Bible and to the history of Israel and the early church, we find that fasting was a regular part of the life of God’s people. Under the old covenant, Israel was required by God to fast collectively at least once a year on the Day of Atonement and on other occasions. There are also records of individuals who fasted: Moses fasted, David fasted, Elijah fasted, and many of the kings of Israel led their people in fasting.
In the book of Acts, we have records of the early church fasting together in groups for special needs. Particularly when they were sending forth apostles, but also when they were appointing elders in local churches, the early church would collectively fast and pray for God’s guidance. Reliable church tradition and recorded history also tell us that for several centuries the early church practiced fasting regularly on Wednesday and Friday of each week. These were the two days normally recognized for fasting.
The early Methodists under John and Charles Wesley regularly practiced fasting. It was a normal part of their procedure; however, I find that today many Methodists have never heard of it. In fact, John Wesley would not ordain a man to the Methodist ministry unless he would commit himself to fast every Wednesday and Friday until 4:00 P.M. In other words, Wesley regarded it as an absolutely normal part of any Christian minister’s life and discipline. Personally, I believe that the restoration of this practice would change the lives and the influence of many ministries and ministers.\
HOW SHOULD I PREPARE FOR A FAST?
The first thing that I would like to say about preparation concerns the mental attitude with which we go into a fast. This has a great deal to do with whether the fast is successful or not. I believe we should approach fasting with an attitude of positive faith: it is God’s will for me to fast, and God will bless me when I do fast in accordance with His will. I believe it is God’s will because Scripture reveals that it is. We do not need some special feeling or revelation about the fact that fasting is the will of God, because the Bible clearly indicates that it is. We do not need some special revelation that it is God’s will for us to pray because it is plainly taught in the Bible. People who wait for a special revelation for something that is definitely stated in the Bible seldom get that special revelation and therefore miss the purpose of God.
Furthermore, I believe that God will reward us in fasting if we seek Him with right motives and in a scriptural way. The Bible clearly promises this. Jesus said,
But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
(Matt. 6:17-18 KJV)
That is a very clear promise. If you fast in the right way with the right motives, God will reward you openly. So if you fail to fast, bear in mind that you are depriving yourself of the reward, because God cannot give you the reward if you don’t meet His conditions.
The writer of Hebrews set down a basic principle for approaching God and seeking anything from Him. Hebrews 11:6 states, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (KJV). When we approach God, the Bible says we must approach Him on the basis of faith. There is no other basis on which to approach Him. Further, if we come to God on that basis, we must believe two specific things: first of all, that God is (that He exists), and second, that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. If you diligently seek God, He will reward you—that is guaranteed! He may not always reward you exactly the way you might have expected to be rewarded, but those who diligently seek God will never fail to receive a reward.
In Isaiah 58, we also have a series of promises to those who fast according to the will of God. I think it is worthwhile just looking at some of these statements. The Lord promised that all of these results will follow if fasting is done in a way pleasing to Him:
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I….The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
(Isa. 58:8-9, 11-12 NIV)
I have made a list of ten specific promises for those who fast according to the will of God:
•work that endures
To me, any Christian who does not desire those benefits is very foolish. They are specifically promised to those who fast in accordance with the will of God. When we begin to fast with a positive attitude of faith that we are doing what the Scripture teaches, that we are obeying the revealed will of God, and that God Himself will reward us, then we can expect the specific rewards that are listed in Isaiah 58.
We also need to have the right attitude toward our own bodies. Many Christians have a wrong attitude towards the body. They have the impression that the body is a necessary evil they have to live with and that it will be a good thing when they’re out of it. In the meantime, they don’t want to give too much thought or attention to the body, because they erroneously believe they are being unspiritual if they do. I don’t find the Bible teaches that attitude towards the body. I’d like you to read just two verses in 1 Corinthians:
What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
(1 Cor. 6:19-20 KJV)
The Bible teaches that the physical body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and that when Jesus died on the cross and shed His blood, He redeemed not only our spirits and our souls, but also our bodies. He bought the whole of us with the price of His shed blood. We belong to Him entirely—spirit, soul, and body.
God has a very real interest in and a very specific purpose for our bodies. The body is to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. It is be the place where the Holy Spirit dwells. The Bible tells us that God does not dwell in temples made by hands (Acts 7:48). We can build Him any church, any synagogue, any tabernacle we like, but God will not dwell there. God has chosen to dwell in the physical bodies of those who believe in Him. Thus, the believer’s body has a very important function as a residence of the Holy Spirit.
I believe that it is pleasing to God that I keep that residence of the Holy Spirit in the best possible condition. It should be healthy and strong and able to do the things God wants done.
Furthermore, Paul told us about our physical members in Romans 6:13: “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (KJV). So the various
To me, any Christian who does not desire those benefits is very foolish. They are specifically promised to those who fast in accordance with the will of God. When we begin to fast with a positive attitude of faith that we are doing what the Scripture teaches, that we are obeying the revealed will of God, and that God Himself will reward us, then we can expect the specific rewards that are listed in Isaiah 58.
We also need to have the right attitude toward our own bodies. Many Christians have a wrong attitude towards the body. They have the impression that the body is a necessary evil they have to live with and that it will be a good thing when they’re out of it. In the meantime, they don’t want to give too much thought or attention to the body, because they erroneously believe they are being unspiritual if they do. I don’t find the Bible teaches that attitude towards the body. I’d like you to read just two verses in 1 Corinthians:
What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
(1 Cor. 6:19-20 KJV)
The Bible teaches that the physical body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and that when Jesus died on the cross and shed His blood, He redeemed not only our spirits and our souls, but also our bodies. He bought the whole of us with the price of His shed blood. We belong to Him entirely—spirit, soul, and body.
God has a very real interest in and a very specific purpose for our bodies. The body is to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. It is be the place where the Holy Spirit dwells. The Bible tells us that God does not dwell in temples made by hands (Acts 7:48). We can build Him any church, any synagogue, any tabernacle we like, but God will not dwell there. God has chosen to dwell in the physical bodies of those who believe in Him. Thus, the believer’s body has a very important function as a residence of the Holy Spirit.
I believe that it is pleasing to God that I keep that residence of the Holy Spirit in the best possible condition. It should be healthy and strong and able to do the things God wants done.
Furthermore, Paul told us about our physical members in Romans 6:13: “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (KJV). So the various members of my physical body are intended to be instruments (or an alternative reading is “weapons”) that God can use. They do not belong to me; they belong to God. I am to yield them to God.
Now I think it is logical and obvious that God wants His weapons in good condition. He doesn’t want them feeble and broken down. He wants our bodies to be healthy. He wants our members to be strong, effective, and active because they are the members of Christ and they are the instruments God uses for His purposes in the earth. In a certain sense, Christ has no body in the earth except ours. Our bodies are the instruments that He uses for His will in the earth, and I have become convinced that God expects us to keep our bodies strong and as healthy as we can.
I am convinced that fasting is a very practical way to make and keep our bodies healthy. I believe that many physical as well as other problems would be solved if Christians would learn to fast in a practical and healthy way. Part of what I’m going to teach is intended to help you fast with the maximum benefits for your body.
When I look at the way Christians in America treat their bodies, especially the kinds of things they feed them, I ask myself, “What shape would their cars be in if they treated them with as little understanding and as little respect as they treat their bodies?” I’ve come to the conclusion that most people’s cars would not be running! Our bodies are much more forgiving and long-suffering than our cars.
Personally, I think it is simply common sense to treat your body with at least as much concern and intelligent care as you would treat your car. In fact, it should be more because $20,000 will buy a new car, but $20,000 will not begin to buy a new body. It can’t even buy one eye. There is no monetary price to be set on a healthy body. One basic problem with Christians today is that they simply don’t appreciate the importance of a healthy body.
In regard to physical aspects of fasting, some people should exercise caution. If you have certain types of physical problems such as diabetes or tuberculosis, or if you are on some kind of regular medication, you should consult your physician for advice about whether you should fast. There are some people who cannot practice fasting. For example, those who are diabetics have to maintain their blood chemistry at certain levels. In such cases, I believe that it is the responsibility of other Christians to fast for those who cannot.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF FASTING?
Let’s talk about choosing objectives in fasting. Somebody said once, “If you aim at nothing, you can be pretty sure you’ll hit it.” We need to have an aim or an objective when we go into something like fasting.
We can find many good, scriptural reasons for fasting. I’ll give you some, relating them to myself. First, one biblical purpose for fasting is to humble myself. David said, “I humbled my soul with fasting” (Ps. 35:13 NAS). We need to bear in mind that humility is not an emotion, not something vague, but rather it is specific. God will not humble us because He has told us to humble ourselves. I have proved by experience that if I fast with the right motives and in faith, I can humble myself.
When I humble myself, God exalts me. That principle runs throughout the Bible. “Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matt. 23:12 KJV). We have to make the choice. Do I want to be abased? Then I can exalt myself. Do I want to be exalted? Then I need to humble myself. I believe that the basic way for a believer to humble himself is by fasting.
Another motive for fasting is to come closer to God. The Scripture says that if you “draw near to God…He will draw near to you” (James 4:8 NAS).
A third reason for fasting is to understand God’s Word more clearly. I have learned by experience over the years that when I’m seeking God in times of fasting, He gives me further, deeper understanding of His Word.
Another very important reason for fasting is to find God’s will and to receive direction in your life. Ezra said, “I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance” (Ezra 8:21 KJV). Again, it has been my experience and my testimony that when I humble myself in fasting and seek Him for direction and guidance, He does lead me in the right way. I’ve proved this in many situations where we have had to move from country to country and when we have had to make decisions between going to one field or another to work, to one type of ministry or another. I’ve found that if we take time to fast and pray, in humility, seeking God’s direction, we receive what we pray for.
Another very common reason for fasting is to seek healing. Isaiah 58:8 says, “Thine health shall spring forth speedily” (KJV). This also applies to deliverance from evil spirits. Jesus said in one place about a certain type of evil spirit, “This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Matt. 17:21 KJV). Before Jesus Himself entered into His ministry of healing and deliverance, He spent forty days fasting.
We also can fast when we need God’s intervention in some particular crisis, or when some tremendous problem has arisen that we can’t handle by ordinary means. There are many examples of this in the Bible. In 2 Chronicles 20, Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah found that they were facing an invading army that they could not meet with normal military methods. They humbled themselves before God, gathered together, fasted, and prayed. God dealt with the invading army. They didn’t have to use a single weapon. God totally defeated their enemies for them, and I don’t believe God has any favorites. I believe He’s just as willing to intervene on our behalf when we seek Him in the same way.
A final reason for fasting is to intercede and pray on behalf of others. Many, many people come to me about their unsaved relatives and they ask, “What can I do to get my relatives saved?” I often ask them, “Have you ever fasted and prayed for your unsaved husband or for your unsaved son or daughter? Are you willing to make a personal sacrifice—do something that will cost you—on behalf of your loved one?” There are many testimonies believers of how God has answered the prayer that is accompanied by fasting on behalf of unsaved relatives.
If you’re going to have a special period of fasting—more than a day or so—or you have some special purpose for fasting, sometimes it is good to make a written list of what you are fasting about and date it. I’m glad that many years ago in the early I did that on several occasions. I still have the lists. In looking back over them, I see with amazement how many of the things that I fasted for God answered— and some of them great things were. To give you one example, I fasted and prayed for the salvation of my mother. Although it took many years, God saved her very definitely and very dramatically almost at the last moment. At about the last time I could be reassured she really understood the Gospel, she had a tremendous experience of salvation, so it pays to pray and to fast. When I look back on those lists now, I praise God for the marvelous answers to prayer. A prayer list might be a good idea in your ordinary prayer life. That’s not to say that everybody needs to do it, but if you do, one day you’ll praise God for the way He’s answered your prayers.
HOW LONG SHOULD I FAST?
Now we come to the question of choosing a length of time to fast. My advice is: Don’t begin with a very long fast. Don’t begin with a week, two weeks, or forty days. Some people do, and they achieve it, but I find it’s better to start climbing the ladder from the bottom, rung by rung. The problem is, if you start with too long a period and don’t achieve it, then you feel defeated. You may give up and never try again. I would suggest that normally it is better to begin at the bottom of the ladder and climb toward the top.
If you are not familiar with fasting, and you don’t really feel equal to a big test, begin by omitting the last meal of the day. If you normally would eat your last meal about 6:00 or 6:30 P.M. and don’t have any snacks afterwards until breakfast the next morning, you’ve actually fasted from lunch time to breakfast time, which is about eighteen hours. That’s quite a substantial period to be without food by only missing one meal. That way you achieve a real fast without too drastic a change in your life pattern or too great an objective. If you succeed in that, the next time you may want to skip the last two meals: the noon meal and the evening meal. If you don’t eat until breakfast then you have actually been twenty-four hours without food. Then when you begin to feel like a real soldier, you can omit all three meals one day, and you will have fasted from supper the previous night until breakfast the next day—about thirty-six hours.
Once you have achieved that and know you can do it, then I think it’s time to seek the Lord as to whether He wants you to go on a longer fast. Again I would advise you not to take too big a step the first time. Take two or three days, or a week. If you spend a week fasting, that will probably have a substantial effect on the course of your life.
Looking back on my own career of ministry, I believe that if I had not practiced fasting many years ago, I would not be where I am today. I believe that fasting in many ways settled the course my life was to take. Again I come back to the Scripture I quoted once already, “[God] is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6 KJV). I say that not only on the basis of Scripture, but on the basis of personal experience!
Now, it’s perfectly possible to fast for two or three weeks. In the Bible, quite a number of people fasted for forty days, and I know a good many people who are alive who have fasted for as long as forty days. But I do not believe that it is wise to make the length of time your main objective. It isn’t really as important how long you fast as that you fast in the will of God, that your motives are right, and that you get the benefits that should be yours from fasting.
To sum up, I suggest that you begin on a small scale and gradually increase the length of your fasts.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING A FAST?
I have already spoken about your mental attitude, which is probably the most important thing in fasting. Now let’s talk about what happens during a fast. This is an important section of our study, and there are a number of things I would like to suggest.
On a practical level, one important thing to do is to guard against constipation. If you know you are going to fast, make your last meal or two something that will prevent you from becoming constipated. Everyone has his own particular way of arranging for that, but some obvious things you can do are to eat more than the usual amount of fruit, salad, fruit juice, or maybe a type of bran cereal. That’s something you can settle for yourself, but it is a detail that you ought to take into consideration.
During a fast, I very strongly recommend that you take extra time for Bible reading and for prayer. I put Bible reading first because, in my opinion, it is wise to make it a practice not to pray without first reading your Bible. When you read your Bible, it anoints your spirit, and it gets your mind in line with God’s thoughts. Your prayer will normally be much more effective and focused after Bible reading.
If you are just fasting a couple of meals, you may feel that you do not have much time, but after all, you have the time you would normally have spent preparing and consuming two meals. Offer that time to the Lord. At least spend that time specifically in Bible reading and prayer.
Second, guard against spiritual attack. The real sacrifice in fasting is not going without food. Rather, it is the fact that when you really begin to seek God, pray, and fast for things that matter, Satan is going to turn extra spiritual forces loose against you. You may find that strange oppressions begin to me over you—doubt, fear, or loneliness. You may somehow feel yourself in a dark place, or you may lose some of the usual feelings of joy, peace, and happiness that you normally have as a Christian. Don’t get worried if that happens. In fact, it’s a kind of backhanded compliment from the Devil. It means that you are worrying him, and he’s out to prevent you from achieving your objectives. Don’t yield to these emotions. Don’t let feelings dictate to you. Bear in mind the great basic truths of the Word of God: God is on your side; God loves you and is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Heb. 11:6). This is true whether you feel it or not. Don’t let feelings turn you away.
WHAT ABOUT UNPLEASANT PHYSICAL REACTIONS?
Now we come to the question that always occupies people’s minds—unpleasant physical reactions from fasting. Because of current lifestyles, most people will experience some type of physical reaction in the early stages of a fast. Some common ones are headaches—and they can be very severe—dizziness, and nausea. I’m no medical expert, but people who study reactions from a medical point of view say that, in most cases, what is happening is that the blood in your body that is normally taken up in the process of digestion is now liberated from that and begins to work in other areas to clear them up. For instance, if you are a heavy coffee drinker, you will normally get quite a severe headache when you fast. That is the coffee drinker’s penalty for all the coffee he drinks. I’m not saying, don’t drink coffee. I’m just saying there will probably be a reaction when you fast if you are a coffee drinker.
What most of us don’t realize is that the process of digestion is very hard work. If you eat a heavy meal, much of your physical energy for the next hour or two is mainly taken up dealing with that meal. Consequently, the blood that is there cannot be used in other areas of your body. For instance, I think it is a matter of experience that if you go swimming too soon after a heavy meal, you may get cramps in your arms or legs. Why? Because all the blood is in the stomach being used for the digestive process. But by the time your food is digested, you can go swimming and you won’t get cramps. In other words, the blood is liberated for other activities. If you’re fasting for a day, you are liberating your blood to do a lot of cleanup jobs that badly need to be done, but that are never done when your blood has to spend its time digesting food.
In actual fact, to overeat is to reduce our physical energy. When you go beyond what you need in food, you are simply making your body do extra, unnecessary work digesting unneeded food. Then it isn’t able to do the other things that need to be done. Personally, I have discovered by experience that I cannot preach my best after a heavy meal. I have to have at least an hour or two between a heavy meal and preaching because the blood isn’t in my brain, it’s in my stomach. My brain is fuzzy; it isn’t equal to the job.
We said there may be various physical reactions from fasting in most people, especially in our modern way of life. If you can find the faith to do it, praise God for them. “Thank you, God, for my headache. I realize my blood is there doing something that needed to be done a long while ago!” Don’t stop your fast. If you do, you have let the Devil defeat you.
Daniel said, “I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting” (Dan. 9:3 KJV). When you fast, you need to set your face. You must make up your mind that you are going to do it. Don’t leave open the possibility that you might have that meal after all because then the Devil will be at you all the time to eat. If you have made up your mind not to eat again today and dismiss that possibility from your mind, it’s much easier.
At mealtime, you may feel real hunger pains. Actually, you really don’t need food, but your stomach operates by habit. In about an hour, you will find the hunger pains will subside without your having eaten. It was just a habit. Your stomach was set like a clock to react that way at that time. If you want to fool your stomach, take a couple of glasses of water. When you fill your stomach up with water, it gets fooled. It thinks it has some food and stops protesting.
If these physical reactions become severe, you may have to give up everything else and lie down and rest. That is good for you, too. If you are in a position of employment where you can’t do that, then you will have to choose another way or another day. If your reactions become so severe that you cannot endure them, then I would advise you to break the fast, take a little while to recover, and then try again. You may be quite surprised the next time. You’ll hardly have any reaction.
Fasting uncovers both our spiritual and physical problems. When the problem is exposed, don’t blame the problem on the fasting. Instead, thank God that the fasting has revealed the problem that was already there. If your problems are severe—whether emotional, spiritual, or physical—as a result of fasting, then I think you need to consult somebody with experience, either a pastor or physician.
HOW CAN I FAST WITH MAXIMUM PHYSICAL BENEFITS?
If you want the maximum physical benefits from your fast, there are certain things that will help you. I will give you some very practical suggestions to help you benefit the most from your fast.
1. Get plenty of rest. In fact, take extra time to rest. You can pray just as well lying in your bed as you can on your knees.
2. Do some exercise, and try to get some fresh air. I find it very easy to pray when I’m walking; and when I’m walking, I’m getting fresh air and exercise—all three at once! It greatly increases both the spiritual and physical benefits of the fast. Usually in most people’s experiences of fasting, the unpleasant reactions come to a climax in the second, third, or fourth day. If you get beyond that, then you come into a period where fasting really becomes exciting, exhilarating, and enjoyable. You may even find that your physical strength increases remarkably. My experience, not so much in the physical, but with mental activity, is that when I get to that stage in a fast, I can do in one hour work that would normally take me two or three hours. My mind is much clearer, although my body may still be protesting a little with the sense of weakness.
3. While you are fasting, it is normally wise to consume plenty of fluids, because that has the effect of flushing out your kidneys and generally cleaning out your body. What kind of fluids? Well, I’ve come to believe that the best thing is pure water—and I don’t mean the water that comes out of the tap, but the purified water that you can buy in the supermarket or from a firm that handles this product.
When you fast, you will invariably notice that your sense of taste becomes much keener, and you will perceive all sorts of horrid tastes in the drinking water that you hardly noticed when you were eating—particularly the taste of chlorine.
Although I strongly feel that it is wise to take just pure water, at the beginning of your fast, you may want to put some honey in the water. Take the water hot with a little lemon. Honey and lemon together are kind of purifying. If you don’t feel that you want to stick to just water, there are various other fluids available such as broth, bouillon, or fruit juice.
Personally, again, I would advise people during fasting to avoid drinking tea or coffee since they both are very strong stimulants. You get more physical benefits from your fast if you do not consume these during your fast.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF FASTS?
There are times when God does lead us to abstain from fluids, but this can be a dangerous area physically. The only examples I can find in the Bible of people fasting extensively without food or water are Moses and Elijah, who each fasted forty days. However, they were on a supernatural plane—in the immediate presence of God or under some supernatural power. I don’t believe that is a normal pattern for us.
I believe the pattern for the length of time without fluids is found in Esther 4:16. Esther said to her uncle Mordecai, “Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day” (KJV). Three days, night and day, is seventy-two hours, and personally I would not advise anybody to go beyond seventy-two hours without fluids. If you try seventy-two hours without eating or drinking, I think you will find that you’ll be on your knees at the end—if not spiritually, at least physically. However, I must say that I have twice been seventy-two hours without food or drink, and God blessed me in it. I would not recommend anybody to go beyond this length of time. To do so, I believe, is very dangerous physically. I think any doctor would confirm that.
I just need to mention another practical physical detail at this point. While you are fasting, your bowels may not move, but if you have avoided constipation to begin with, you don’t need to worry about that. When you resume eating, your bowels will start functioning again. If you start eating in the right way, you will find that you have probably cleansed your bowels considerably and that they are in better condition than when you started fasting. If your bowels don’t move during your fast, don’t worry.
Sometimes they will; sometimes they won’t. Obviously, if you are fasting for a considerable period of time and they have already moved, there would be no further need for them to move, since no food has been digested.
There is also a biblical precedent for what I would call a partial fast. In other words, you eat something, but not much.
In those days I Daniel was mourning three full weeks [that’s twenty-one days]. I ate no pleasant bread, neither came flesh [that’s meat] nor wine in my mouth, neither did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled.
(Dan. 10:2-3 KJV)
That was not a complete fast, but it was what is called a partial fast. He didn’t eat meat, and he didn’t eat dessert—he just ate simple, basic food.
Daniel’s fast was a kind of mourning. Fasting and mourning are very closely related in the Bible. There is a spiritual mourning that God has promised to bless: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4 NAS). There may be a time when you are led to a kind of partial fast, like Daniel.
A short time ago, I met a Catholic priest, a missionary in Japan, who had just come from a place here in the U.S. where a group of priests were praying and fasting for forty days on behalf of all the priests. This really was exciting to me. Some of the priests had been there the whole forty days, but others, like the missionary from Japan, had just been there a week. They had taken time off from everything else and were praying and seeking God, asking Him to bless all the priests in the Roman Catholic Church. He informed me that they were experiencing a tremendous blessing in this gathering. Let’s bear in mind that none of this is out of date; it’s all taking place today; and if the Protestants aren’t doing it, then the Catholics are!
The incident just related brings up another point about fasting: if a group agrees to fast together, I think that if possible they should also meet together at least part of the time to pray and seek God as a group. There are things accomplished by praying together that often will not happen just by our praying on our own.
HOW THE SABBATH AND FASTING ARE RELATED?
An important related facet of this message, which is slightly beyond fasting, is the matter of taking time for God. In Isaiah 58, we have already looked at the blessings that are promised to those who fast in accordance with the will of God. The first twelve verses of Isaiah 58 deal with fasting; the last two verses deal with keeping God’s Sabbath, and I believe they are related. The following are the last two verses of Isaiah 58:
“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” The mouth of the LORD has spoken.
(Isa. 58:13-14 NIV)
I believe it is no accident that those two verses come immediately after the twelve verses on fasting. Let me say that I do not believe that Christians are required to observe the Jewish Sabbath, nor do I believe that Sunday is the Sabbath. I believe that Saturday is the Sabbath and that Jews are required to observe it; but Christians, not under the Law, are not required to observe that Sabbath. That is my personal conviction.
In the epistle to the Hebrews, it says, “There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (Heb. 4:9 NAS). The root idea of the Sabbath is resting and ceasing from our own activities. I believe that it is very profitable to unite together fasting with resting from our own works. The average American is either working, at home busy with his family, has a spare job or is busy with some kind of recreation. Actually, there is a tremendous spiritual blessing from just relaxing and waiting upon God and not being busy with anything.
I find that this is a principle of the Bible. When God brought Israel into the Promised Land, He said, “Every seventh year, your land is to have a sabbath. For one year out of seven, don’t sow it; don’t do any work on the land; let it lie fallow.” (See Leviticus 25:2-6.) All the time Israel was in the land, they failed to observe that. So God warned them, “If you don’t do it when you are in the land, I will turn you out of the land, and the land will have its sabbath while you are out of it.” I want you to read that warning of judgment:
I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins. Then the land will enjoy its sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths. All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the sabbaths you lived in it.
(Lev. 26:33-35 NIV)
In other words, Israel refused to keep the sabbath of the land, so God said, “All right, I’ll turn you out of the land, and the land will have nothing but sabbaths all the time you are out of it, because you wouldn’t observe the sabbath when you were in it.”
I’ve come to see that God deals with Christians in the same way. We’re so busy and so active doing things for God that when God says, “Take time off, relax, rest, get alone, get away from everything because I have things I need to tell you,” we are often too busy to listen. I can think of men whom I could name—friends of mine—to whom God went on speaking and warning, who would not listen. Finally, God said, “All right, you’ll be in a hospital bed for twelve months. Then you’ll have to rest!”
My personal conviction is that it’s better to rest voluntarily than to be compelled to rest. I’ve made a personal decision to try to do that. I think there is a great deal of importance in taking time to relax, rest, and wait upon God, and often to combine that rest with fasting. Then your spirit and your stomach rest. Your whole body gets a rest, as well as your whole personality.
Let me point out to you that God ordained a combination of fasting and resting for the Day of Atonement. Leviticus records God’s ordinances for that day:
And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month [that’s the Day of Atonement], ye shall afflict your souls [by fasting], and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger that sojourneth among you: for on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the LORD. It shall be a sabbath of rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls, by a statute for ever.
(Lev. 16:29-31 KJV)
The priest had his part to do—he had to go into the Holy of Holies with the blood of the sacrifice and make propitiation for the sins of the people. However, the people had their part to do, and their part was twofold: (1) to fast, and (2) to abstain from all work.
I feel the Lord is emphasizing that we need to unite these two things again. When we fast, if possible, we need to take time off from every other activity—not necessarily a whole day, but half a day—and set that time aside for God. Let our busy minds stop turning over for a little while. We’re so busy, even when we pray, that we never give God a chance to tell us what to do. Praying is not just telling God, it’s also listening to God. Sometimes it takes a good many hours to get ourselves into the position where we can hear Him. So I believe that rest should be linked with fasting.
Let me give you one other Scripture where fasting is united with taking a sabbath. In the book of Joel, the people of God were faced with a tremendous crisis. They had no answer, so God told them His answer through the prophet Joel: “Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the LORD your God” (Joel 1:14 KJV). A solemn assembly means a day when nobody does anything but seek God.
Years ago when we were in Jerusalem, during times of upheaval in the city, a curfew would be proclaimed, and the word they used at those times for curfew is the same word that is used in this passage for “a solemn assembly. ” A curfew is a time when no one is allowed out. Everybody has to stay at home. In other words, there is a voluntary restraint on all activities.
God tells us to sanctify a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly stop our own activities, and set aside time for Him. In Joel 2:15-16, when God said, “Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children” (KJV), everyone was to stop all their own activities and take time to seek God.
HOW SHOULD I BREAK A FAST?
One final concern as we close this study is with breaking a fast. This is a very important aspect of fasting. You may lose a lot of the benefits that are due you from fasting if you break your fast unwisely.
Some of us don’t realize that the word breakfast, which we still use in the English language, means the meal that breaks a fast. However, some people eat so much so late at night that they never have a fast to break.
After fasting, always begin with a light meal, even if you have fasted only a short period of time. Don’t begin with anything cooked or greasy or fat or heavy. Preferably, begin with a raw salad or fruit. My experience has been that if you begin with a salad—especially lettuce or raw greens—it does a tremendous purging job on your whole body. It’s like a brush sweeping out your intestines. This has been my experience in breaking a fast this way.
The next thing to keep in mind is that the longer the fast, the more gradually you must break it. Somebody has said that you must take as long to break your fast as you spent fasting. I don’t think that is completely accurate, but I have discovered when I have fasted for a long time (over three weeks) that my stomach was like a baby’s. I had to be as careful about feeding myself after that fast as I would have been feeding a baby. It took me a week, at least, to get back to normal food.
This is where you are going to have to have real self-control. When you are in a fast, after about the first two or three days you don’t feel hungry, but when you start to eat again, your hunger comes back. That is when you really must hold onto yourself. You may get mental pictures of all sorts of things you love eating, but you just can’t give way because you can ruin many of the physical benefits of fasting by breaking your fast rapidly or unwisely.
One more point needs to be mentioned. As a result of fasting—even if it’s only a couple of days—your stomach will have contracted. It is usually not wise to expand it again to the same extent. Most people in Western civilization have over expanded stomachs. You will find that as you start eating after a fast, you will begin to feel full sooner than you would have before you fasted. Habit will make you go on eating the rest of the meal, but wisdom says, “Why not stop there? You’ve had enough.”
Thus, fasting is a way also to change our eating habits, which many of us need to do. However, if you are planning to slim down or reduce, fasting alone will not do that normally. You will get a few pounds off, but you’ll put them on just as quickly unless you combine it with a changed program of eating.
In this study, we have covered many of the practical aspects of fasting. Briefly, in review, we defined fasting as abstaining from food for spiritual purposes. We saw that fasting is the revealed will of God and that He has promised to reward those who diligently seek Him through the scriptural way of fasting.
We also discovered several scriptural objectives for fasting:
•to humble ourselves
•to come closer to God
•to help us understand God’s Word
•to find God’s will and to receive direction in our lives
•to seek healing or deliverance from evil spirits
•to seek God’s intervention in some particular crisis or some problem that cannot be handled by ordinary means
•to intercede and pray on behalf of others
We also pointed out that our motive for fasting is much more important than the length of time we spend fasting. For those who have not fasted before, it is wise to begin with a shorter time and build up to longer periods of fasting.
During our periods of fasting, we need to take extra time for Bible study and prayer, guard against spiritual attack, and avoid religious ostentation.
Because of the way we live today, we also pointed out that most people may experience some physical reactions during the early stages of a fast. Such reactions are usually a sign that our blood is doing a badly needed clean-up job on various parts of our bodies.
We also showed the parallel between fasting and the Sabbath, encouraging the combination of rest and relaxation with fasting and waiting upon God.
Finally, we covered how to break a fast so as to get the maximum physical benefits from it.
Fasting is both our duty and our privilege as Christians. Let us heed God’s call to pray and fast, individually and corporately, trusting Him that He will fulfill His promise to reward those who diligently seek Him.