And when the tempter came to him, he said, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” (Matt.4:3-4).
In the first part of this discourse (God’s Word Speaks – Part One), we understood thatanybody, Christian or none Christian, could read the Scriptures, which is God’s word, without hearing from God. I emphasized the need to accord the Scriptures the role of Absolute and Sovereign, which it deserves, if anyone would genuinely listen to the Holy Spirit. Whatever the Bible affirms, God affirms. And what the Bible affirms (or denies), it affirms (or denies) with the very authority of God. This is why Scriptures are collectively called canon. The online English dictionary defines canon as “the body of ecclesiastical law.” The Scriptures carry the weight of spiritual legal authority and should be so recognized by believers. Disobedience to its injunctions is a transgression; refusal to acknowledge its authority is rebellion, but obedience to its injunctions is the hallmark of uprightness.
In this second part we shall consider what it means when we say we have heard from God in the Scriptures. We shall also consider the heart condition that must prevail if we must hear what God is saying.
And even things without life which give sound, whether flute or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is played? For if the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for the battle? 1Cor.14:7-8.
There must be a relationship between sound and meaning for communication to happen. If the distinctive message and meaning of a sound is not understood, then communication has not taken place. Warning is of no relevance until understood; blessing is of no use until understood. Similarly, God’s voice is heard when the Scripture is understood. If you have not properly understood a portion of the Scripture, you have not heard what it is saying. Understanding is essential and it is the first step in hearing God through the Scriptures.
The Scripture is replete with instructions that demonstrate the importance of understanding.
Proverbs 4:7, Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding.
Proverbs 4:5 How much better to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.
Jesus Christ identified the root problem of the religious leaders of His days, and traced it to lack of understanding. The Sadducees came to Him asking questions about resurrection, in reply Jesus said, You do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. (Matt.22:29).
The root word translated “err” is the same Greek word from where the English word planet was derived. It carries the idea of “wandering body”. It means, to go astray, get off-course; to deviate from the correct path, roaming into error, be misled, lead astray, deceived, or cause to wander. This is what happens to a believer (and by extension, to anybody else) who does not understand the Scriptures. Not having understood a Scripture the believer is like a wanderer; he is like a ship wandering in the ocean without a compass. You could lose direction. Understanding is principal to the believer’s spiritual growth.
Numerous interpretative patterns have been espoused by Bible scholars. A review of each of them would be too extensive for this discourse; I would however note a few. But before then I would state a few conditions a believer needs to meet if he or she would hear God in the Scriptures.
1. Seek God, not His promises
Many people have the attitude of reading the Bible, scanning for promises only. I call them ‘promiscentric Christians.’ These Christians know God by His promises. And believe me, they experience God at work. I have seen ministers of the Gospel, leaders of large congregations, relegate certain promises to particular time in the past and so deny themselves of the power of such promises; I have also seen not so knowledgeable believers who took God by those same promises and experienced miracles. And by miracles, I mean, God at work. But experiencing God by His miraculous acts is not the same as knowing God by His ways. The Children of Israel knew God by His acts (promises and miraculous deliverance) yet perished (Psalms 95:11-12); in contrast, Moses knew His ways and obtained a good report. Any believer who is really preparing for the return of Jesus Christ must know God beyond miracles. You must know God by His ways. The first step in understanding God’s way is by understanding the instructions, commandments, admonitions, warnings, as well as promises, already laid out in the Scriptures. In other words, you study the Scriptures to know God, not just to grab the promises. When you are resolute on understanding and living out God’s instructions, the Holy Spirit would open your understanding to enable you hear God in His Word.
2. Avoid selective obedience:
There are those who come to the Scriptures with the attitude of a woman who went to the shopping mall to buy groceries. They pick and choose. They select what please them and reject what do not. It is like a man who purchased a brand new car. He opened the operator’s manual, selects what he feels good with and rejects what he feels not so good with. How can he properly maintain his vehicle? When we read Scriptures so selectively as to pick and choose according to our feelings, interests, or perspectives, we cannot hear God accurately. Explained in another way, it is seeking God but not with our whole heart. Isaiah spoke about this type of believers when he wrote,
Then the Lord said: “Because these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, worship of men has become merely like rules taught by human beings. Therefore, watch out! “As for me, I will once again do amazing things with this people, wonder upon wonder. The wisdom of their wise men will perish, and the insights of their discerning men will stay hidden.” (Isaiah 29:13-14).
God withholds the spirit of insight from people who have no genuine desire and commitment to do God’s will. Selective obedience is equivalent to total disobedience. When you approach God’s Word with the commitment to live in obedience you engage the Holy Spirit to illuminate your understanding.
3. Apply the instructions to yourself first
It is so easy to see someone else in the Scriptures we read, sermons we hear, than to see ourselves in the picture. We are quick however, to say amen to those promises we read, but when it comes to some of the hard lessons and disciplinary instructions we shrug them off. But the Word of God is a cleansing agent. David said, How can a young person stay pure? By obeying your word. I have tried hard to find you—don’t let me wander from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Psalms 119:9-11. David applied God’s word to himself with the objective to walking in obedience. When we apply God’s word to ourselves, it brings us to convictions of personal wrongs, leads us to repentance and changes our attitude to God, people and life in general. The result is a renewal of our minds, a transformation of our whole being, and the spiritual maturity of our character. And that is the definition of a spiritual man. No believer can walk in the Spirit without the discipline of applying God’s instructions to his or her own life personally.
4. Do not resist convictions
It is inherent in the human nature to evade convictions. If anything goes wrong in the house everybody else could be blamed but I; if somebody must be held responsible for wrong doing it must not be me. So, when we encounter instructions, rebukes and corrections in the Scripture we are quick to see the image of Mr Jones, instead of ourselves. But, a major step in hearing God from His Word is to see our image in the words we read. Nehemiah 9 tells us about Ezra and the revival he led, which was stirred by assimilation of God’s Word.
Verse 2-3, So on October 8 Ezra the priest brought the Book of the Law before the assembly, which included the men and women and all the children old enough to understand. He faced the square just inside the Water Gate from early morning until noon and read aloud to everyone who could understand. All the people listened closely to the Book of the Law.
Verse 8, They read from the Book of the Law of God and clearly explained the meaning of what was being read, helping the people understand each passage.
Verse 9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were interpreting for the people said to them, “Don’t mourn or weep on such a day as this! For today is a sacred day before the LORD your God.” For the people had all been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
When the Jews had read the commandments of God, understood them and saw themselves in that mirror, the result was deep convictions which lead to weeping, repentance and revival unprecedented. When we replace resistance with acceptance the result would be penitence, as we begin to hear what God is saying in His Word.
God values a penitent and contrite heart. A penitent heart is a heart that is responsive to the Word of God. The original meaning is, fainthearted, tender, soft. It is sometimes translated repentant. Ahab, when he had sinned, became penitent (repentant, tenderhearted) and God heard him (2Kings 22:19).
For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.
Isaiah 57:15 For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, "I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly And to revive the heart of the contrite.
Isaiah 66:1-2, Thus says the LORD, "Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest? 2"For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being," declares the LORD. "But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.
The word, contrite, was translated from a root word that means, to crush, and that means, to press or squeeze with a force that destroys or deforms; to humiliate someone; reduce someone to helpless dismay. When we come to God with our hearts humbled, we present to God a sweet fragrance offering that He would not resist; but when we approach His presence and His Word with a proud spirit, the message of the Word would either the sealed from our hearts or twisted for our destruction.
If we must prepare for the return of Jesus Christ, these are the basics. A Christian who has not learnt these basic lessons could scarcely get ready for the translation. Where do you stand?
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