24. A Teachable Spirit

Meditating on the Will of God: 24:  A Teachable Spirit

Ex 4:12-15   Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” But Moses said, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” Then the LORD’s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do.

We have said before that when you are considering these things it pays to be repetitive. We have also noted that when it comes to the will of God, it is not natural for us to know and understand it; it needs to come by revelation. Also at the heart of the experiences of Jesus’ followers was the call to be a disciple, a learner. But we have also considered the issue of having a hard heart (as in the case of Pharaoh) and so when you put all these things together we see that to be a Christian means to be a learner and to be a learner means we must deal with any signs of a hard heart within us. We’ve also noted that in the day in which we live, a self-centred attitude predominates, often heard in the words, “Don’t you tell me what to do!” Such a person is locked into a self-destructive lifestyle where the blindness of sin prevails.

          We have chosen the above passage from the Lord’s conversation with Moses, very simply because near the end of it twice the Lord says He will teach Moses. Yes, He is aware that He is sending Moses on a humanly impossible task but He will go with him, He will do miracles through Him and now, He will teach him what to say and what to do. Now if that was true for Moses, I suggest it is also certainly true for us. We blunder through life and we get it wrong. We say wrong things and upset people, we do things the wrong way and get in a mess. We do need help, we do need teaching how to do things better – and God delights in teaching us.

          James in his letter wrote, If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (Jas 1:5-8) I have included all those verses because they say so much about this. First of all, ‘wisdom’ is the ‘knowledge of how to…’ It is knowing how to speak or knowing how to act, that is appropriate for the situation. That is wisdom and the Lord says He will give generously (plenty of it) without finding fault (for He understands our shortcomings and that is why we are asking for help, after all).But the person asking must not doubt because if he does then he will not stick to what he has been told by God. If he doubts that it is God or doubts what God says, he will half-heartedly go about it and will end up all over the place like a boat tossed around in a storm. If he is a “on one hand this, but on the other hand that” sort of person that is being double minded and not a man of faith and so will be unstable. No, in summary, God delights in teaching us how to speak or act but we have to be open and obedient.

          Now what is interesting, and what we so often forget, is that those words in James follow other verses and really should be seen in the light of those verses: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (Jas 1:2-4) The context for needing wisdom is the context of trials, of difficulties, where our faith is tested as God works the process of sanctification out in us, that develops perseverance – stick-ability – and that will develop maturity. In those situations, and they crop up again and again in life, we need wisdom, we need God to teach us how to handle the difficult situation.

Elsewhere the apostle Paul wrote, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Cor 10:13)  A temptation is the other side of the coin from a trial. God brings a trial and He may allow Satan to bring a temptation but the truth is, says Paul, that whatever temptation comes it is common to us all and God won’t let us be pushed further than that with which we can cope. Moreover (as we seek Him – implied) He will provide a way so we can stand in the face of it. It, so often, is simply knowledge (realization of what is happening) and understanding (coming to see the issues clearly) and wisdom (knowing what to do) that will see us through this test, this trial, this temptation.

But back to our starting place, we will only be able to do this if we have learnt to have a teachable heart, or a teachable spirit. If we have learnt that God knows best and God has the answers for us, then we need to be open to receive those things from Him, we need to let Him teach us. In the previous study we noted the Lord who corrects or chides us and teaching includes us being corrected and taught the right way to go. Solomon wrote, “A fool spurns his father’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.” (Prov 15:5).  Discipline is simply training and it is a foolish person who does not have an open heart to be taught. The heart is indeed deceitful (Jer 17:9) and so our inner self so often denies that we are not open to be taught, but when we do that we do it by making excuses that the form of correction that we see coming is coming from a person who is also less than perfect (because God so often uses people to teach us). But these are just excuses and they deceive us and cover up our lack of being open to being taught, to be trained, to being disciplined, to being corrected, and to being shown a better way to live than the way we are on at the present.  We need to be taught, and if anything rings true here, we need to go to the Lord for His wisdom as to how to deal with our lack. May it be so.

122. More Scene Setting?

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 122. More Scene Setting?

Mk 6:45,46 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.

We have commented before abut how sometimes the Gospels seem to be made up of a number of acts or scenes and it seems that Jesus is the director who orchestrates what is happening so that God’s word is taken to the people, God’s love is experienced by them, and the disciples are taught and trained. Very often there is no warning of what is about to happen but it happens as a result of Jesus instigating it.

Our verses today seem simple and straight forward and there is no indication of what will follow but it is almost as if Jesus is setting the scene for the disciples next learning exercise. They have just fed the five thousand and are no doubt exulting in the wonder of what has just happened. Now what follows must have appeared somewhat strange to them because as soon as they have cleared up – and the crowd is still there – Jesus sends the disciples away. Here we have one of Mark’s ‘immediately moments’. Straight away before anything else can happen Jesus sends them away.

They had been tired and in need of rest when they first came to this spot; that was the reason Jesus had brought them here, so maybe he has it in mind that if he goes with them in the boat, the crowd will just follow once again, so he separates himself off from them so they can get away on their own. Maybe that’s how it seems at the time, but it does set the scene for something spectacular to happen.

Once the disciples are off in the boat and the crowd realise Jesus is not going with them, Jesus turns to the crowd and sends them home. It is as simple as that. No I’m not going to heal anyone, no I’m not going to teach. It is the end of the day and you ought to go home – so they go. So at last we have Jesus separated off from the crowd and the disciples are separated off from both the crowd and Jesus.

The crowd may be slightly reluctant to leave for we read that Jesus left them rather than they left him. So he tells them to go and he walks off. No one follows and so Jesus climbs up the mountain side to be alone so that he can pray. He has just spent the day giving out and so now it is time for him to take in of his Father’s presence so he prays. It may also be that he seeks his Father on behalf of his disciples who, we will see, can be seen by him. He still watches over them.

36. Made New

Ephesians Meditations No.36

Eph  4:20-24 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

There is a fundamental truth about being a Christian which unbelievers, ‘nominal Christians’ (those in word only) and even so-called ‘liberal Christians’ (those who demean the word of God and only believe the bits they want to believe), miss.  It is, very simply, this basic truth that a Christian is NOT someone who has just ‘turned over a new leaf’, or someone who believes basic information about Jesus Christ and the Christian faith, but it IS someone who, in Jesus’ own language has been ‘born again’ (Jn 3:3-8) and who is, in Paul’s words, ‘a new creation’ (2 Cor 5:17) and in John’s words, are ‘children of God’ and ‘born of God’ (Jn 1:12,13). Christians are people who have been remade by the work of God’s Holy Spirit, because of what Jesus achieved on the Cross at Calvary.

Now the follow-up to the above paragraph, is that there are very practical outworkings of being born again, and it is those outworkings that Paul now speaks about. He has, you may remember, just been writing about how they must not live like unbelievers do in the futility of their thinking, given over to sensual living. So now he emphasises that they mustn’t live like that: You, however, did not come to know Christ that way.” or “You didn’t continue to know that way of life when you encountered Christ.” Oh no, the Son of God lived a very different way and as we “grow up into the head” (4:15) we become part of One who lives a very different sort of life!

Thus he continues, “Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.” Of course they had heard of Jesus because he had been the foundation of the Gospel and Paul had conveyed that himself when he was in Ephesus. Note the two levels, if you like, of teaching spoken of here: “heard of him” and “taught in him”. The ‘heard‘ is about verbal teaching that has been given to them about Christ, but thetaught in him’ is about the learning experience they have been through in their direct encounter with him and in being ‘born again.’ This latter one is a level of teaching that the nominal Christian cannot know about. It is a teaching by experience. Once Christ is in our life we are being impacted by him in a way that was impossible before we received his Spirit. It is direct encounter with God! That teaches and that changes us! Look, says Paul, remember what you heard and remember what has happened to you. All of that was very different from that which the unbelievers know and experience, and that should have told you already that the life you are to live out is very different from theirs!

He continues to explain: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires.” That is the first part of it – to put off’. God has totally changed us by putting His Holy Spirit within us and He will be working to bring about a Christ-like nature in us, but He doesn’t make us robots; He still allows us to make choices, to make decisions, to play our part by acts of will. This same language of our responsibility is seen a lot in Paul’s letter to the Colossians: “(you) set your hearts on,” (3:1) and “(you) set your minds on,” (3:2) and “(you) Put to death, therefore,” (3:5) and “you must rid yourselves of,” (3:8) and “put on the new self,” (3:10) and “clothe yourselves,” (3:12) and “put on love.” (3:14). This is all the language of effort. It’s the same ideas as Paul conveyed to the Romans: “We died to sin,” (Rom 6:2), and “count yourselves dead to sin,” (6:11), and “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body.” (6:12). The teaching is 1) Know who you now are, and 2) Make the effort to live like it. Now this ‘making an effort’ is a very different thing to the unbeliever striving to appear good. It is simply making the mind decision to live as the Holy Spirit is prompting you to live – in purity, holiness and righteousness. He’s done the changing and it is now up to us to live out this newness.

See what Paul goes on to say: “to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” There is exactly that which we have been saying. There is a two-sided newness. First there is a new “attitude of your minds” which simply means a determination to live in co-operation with God’s Spirit as He teaches, leads and inspires us. Second, there is the newness of ‘putting on’ or purposefully living like that. It’s not only in the mind; it is to be lived out in the life. God Himself is to be our goal, to be like Him, as we said, living righteous lives (living by God’s standards), lives that are characterized by holiness (distinctive by their purity and goodness).

When you take time to consider these things, it is easy to see that we have a twofold target in living out our daily lives. On one side there is shying away from the old attitudes of self-centred, godless thinking which resulted in sensuous, self-determined living, and on the other side there is reaching out for or putting on, the new nature of Jesus Christ’s purity and goodness, that is now dwelling within us and waiting to be lived out. Let’s make sure we do it! ‘