Reading: Luke 7:1 – 8:18
“And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest.
“No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a bowl or hides it under a bed. A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house. For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.
“So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.” Luke 8:14-18 (NLT)
In Matthew 5, when Jesus talks about not hiding a lamp under a bowl, he is encouraging me to 'let my light shine before men'. But in Luke, the 'lamp under a bowl' illustration is used in a different context, being just one part of a longer passage on listening and responding to the word of God. (See Luke 8:4-18).
Jesus starts with the Parable of the Sower, about how four different types of “soil” respond to the word of God (the “Good News about the Kingdom of God” which Jesus is “sowing” as he travels around). He then uses the lamp under the bowl illustration to say that God has no intention of hiding his light from me. One day, all will be revealed, but His clear intention is to increasingly reveal his light to me now.
In view of this, Jesus challenges me to consider carefully how I listen. Because, “To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.” So this whole passage is really about God's initial and ongoing revelation of himself to me, and how I respond to that revelation.
“To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given.” What a wonderful promise! The more I seek to know and understand God, the more God will reveal himself to me. The more I meditate on his word, the more understanding I will be given. God doesn't reveal all of himself to me at once, but in greater and greater measure as I seek him and respond to him. And the closer I get to the light, the brighter it becomes. “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” (Proverbs 4:18).
The result of all this will be fruitfulness, “a crop that [will be] a hundred times as much as had been planted!” (Luke 8:8).
Lord God, I am hungry to know you more! Thank you that your purpose is to reveal yourself to me. I want this! I don't just want to know about you – I want to know you personally, and deeply. Please draw me closer in my walk with you each day, and as I get to know you more, may my mind and my heart be transformed, and that transformation be outworked in my everyday life.
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13
“For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:8
For more on listening and responding to God's word, see What is SOAP? and Nourishing the Inner Man – George Müller inspires me!
Recently I read a biography of a wonderful man of faith, George Müller, who lived from 1805 to 1898. His life “mission” was to show the world that God is the same God today that he always was, and that we can trust him for everything. Over the course of his lifetime, he built orphanages that housed over 2000 children at once, not to mention feeding them and providing for all their needs. 121,000 pupils studied at schools that he funded through a society he set up; 281,000 Bibles and 1.4 million New Testaments were printed and distributed; several hundred missionaries were financially supported to varying degrees; and he funded the printing and distribution of 111 million Scriptural books, pamphlets and tracts.
He was able to do all this despite having no formal income. He never had a salary, and never asked anyone for money. He never publicised his needs, and never took up an offering. Instead, he simply prayed in faith and asked God directly for everything he needed. And God answered him. The orphanages themselves were a testimony to his generation that God is alive and that he does indeed supply our needs when we pray in faith, and many were inspired to a more vital and living faith in their God. I too am inspired, having read his story.
Though published in 1898 (the copy I read was 101 years old), this book for me has been a treasure trove of inspiration, and I wanted to share one of the keys which he found so valuable in his relationship with God. Here it is, in his own words:
“Whilst I was staying at Nailsworth (1841) it pleased the Lord to teach me a truth irrespective of human instrumentality, as far as I know. The point is this – I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I could serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord, but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. For I might seek to set the truth before the unconverted, I might seek to benefit believers, I might seek to relieve the distressed, I might in other ways seek to behave myself as becomes a child of God in this world, and yet, not being happy in the Lord, and not being nourished and strengthened in my inner man day by day, all this might not be attended to in a right spirit.
Before this time my practice had been, at least for ten years previously, to give myself to prayer after dressing myself in the morning. Now I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the word of God and to meditation on it that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed, and that thus, by means of the word of God, whilst meditating on it, my heart might be brought into experimental communion with the Lord.
I began therefore to meditate on the New Testament from the beginning early in the morning. The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord's blessing upon His precious word, was to begin to meditate on the word of God, searching as it were into every verse to get blessing out of it, not for the sake of the public ministry of the word, not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon, but for the sake of obtaining good for my own soul.
The result I have found to be almost invariably this, that very soon my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication – so that, though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer. When thus I have been for a while making confession, or intercession, or supplication, or have given thanks, I go on to the next word or verse, turning all as I go on into prayer for myself and others, as the word may lead to it, but still continually keeping before me that food for my own soul is the object of my meditation.
The result of this is that there is always a good deal of confession, thanksgiving, supplication, or intercession mingled with my meditation, and that my inner man almost invariably is even sensibly nourished and strengthened, and that by breakfast time, with rare exceptions, I am in a peaceful, if not happy, state of heart.
Thus also the Lord is pleased to communicate unto me that which, either very soon after or at a later time, I have found to become food for other believers, though it was not for the sake of the public ministry of the word that I gave myself to meditation, but for the profit of my own inner man . . . I dwell so particularly on this point because of the immense spiritual profit and refreshment I am conscious of having derived from it myself, and I affectionately and solemnly beseech all my fellow believers to ponder this matter.”
– George Müller (1805-1898), from the book “George Müller, The Modern Apostle of Faith” by Frederick G. Warne, published 1898.
Reading: Jeremiah 23:9 – 35
We have obeyed everything our forefather Jonadab son of Recab commanded us. Neither we nor our wives nor our sons and daughters have ever drunk wine or built houses to live in or had vineyards, fields or crops. We have lived in tents and have fully obeyed everything our forefather Jonadab commanded us. Jeremiah 35:8-10 (NIV)
Jonadab had commanded his family never to drink wine, and not to settle but instead to live as nomads. “Then you will live a long time in the land where you are nomads.” (Jeremiah 35:7). Since the time that promise was made, “The descendants of Jonadab son of Recab [had continued to carry] out the command their forefather gave them…” (35:16). They believed the promise, held firmly to it, and met the conditions attached to ensure it continued to be fulfilled.
A Promise: A declaration that something will (or will not) be done or given; an express assurance on which expectation is to be based.
God brought this particular family to Jeremiah and held them up as an example of how all the people of the land should have responded to God's promises and the commands that accompanied them.
The promise that comes immediately to mind for me is one that Jesus makes:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5 (NIV)
The promise is that I will bear much fruit. But what is the condition? “Remain in me”. The last phrase particularly stands out: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” In other words, anything that I do “apart” from Jesus (separately; without involving him; on my own) will be fruitless, and not worth the time or effort spent on it.
The opposite of 'apart from' is 'together with'. In using the example of a branch connected to a vine, Jesus is describing a continuous and unbroken togetherness. This is the relationship he wants with me, and my fruitfulness is conditional upon it. There is no “apartness” in the equation; instead there is a continual conversation of prayer. In 1Thessalonians 5:17, Paul describes it in two words : “Pray continually.”
I resolve, with the Spirit's help, to bring everything to God in prayer: To bring him every need, to thank him for even the smallest blessings, to make every job whether big or small an offering of service to him, to seek his guidance and be always listening and ready to respond to his voice, and to enjoy the constant presence of the Holy Spirit in me.
Jesus, I thank you for this wonderful promise in John 15:5. You say to me, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” And so I ask for your grace as I make this declaration: “Apart from you, I shall do nothing.” May this become a motto for me. Please help me to do my part in developing that continuous and unbroken togetherness you seek, and may everything I do be done in your strength and your grace.
See also Walking in “Promise Land”
Reading: Leviticus 16 and Hebrews 10
The Lord said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover. Leviticus 16:2 (NIV)
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body… …let us draw near to God…” Hebrews 10:19-22 (NIV)
What a contrast between Leviticus 16 and Hebrews 10. It's so inspiring to read the two chapters side by side. Both highlight the holiness of our God, and the perils of approaching him in an unholy state. Aaron could enter the Most Holy Place just once a year, on the Day of Atonement, when sacrifices of bulls and goats were made, and strict protocol needed to be followed.
But that day, which continued to come around year after year, was just a shadow of a day that was to come. On the real Day of Atonement, my unholiness was dealt with once and for all. No longer would God warn me against entering his holy Presence, lest I die.
Now, a new and living way had been opened up “through the curtain”, so that not just the high priest, but every man, woman and child – including me – could enter freely into the very Presence of God, the Most Holy Place. It's what God wants for me, and Jesus has made it possible, “…because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:14)
What amazing words those are: I have been “made perfect forever”. That truth needs to permeate my entire being:
I have been made perfect forever…
God is perfecting holiness in me…
How can I now entertain fear or feelings of inadequacy? How can I remain conceited or self-righteous? I can't. But what I can do is embrace the wholeness and confidence that true holiness brings. I am acceptable! I can come into the very presence of our holy God without shame, not as one who is inadequate, but with joy, as one who has been made perfect forever!
This makes me feel so differently about myself. In the way I relate to other people, it gives me confidence and opens the way for love. And in the way I relate to God, it invites a relationship that is almost indescribable. Jesus has changed everything! Closeness with God is now attainable, and I can have it!
Thank you Lord Jesus for your indescribable gift. I accept! Please open my eyes to see you more clearly and know you more closely. I want to know more of your holiness. Please remove from me all that is false, and may the truth that is found in Jesus permeate every part of me, to the very core of my being.
“…because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” Hebrews 10:14
Reading: Psalm 106-111
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise. Psalm 111:10 (NIV)
From the moment I submit myself to God, he begins to renew and restore me. I begin to change! I start to understand things the way that God understands them. I start to think the way that God thinks. Wrong thinking makes way for truth as my mind is renewed, and my character becomes Christ-like. I'm not becoming more intelligent – I'm becoming wise.
In many ways, wisdom is akin to righteousness. It is thinking and behaving just as God intends. It's an inner condition that brings outer harmony. When wisdom and righteousness abound, everything works as designed and things are as they should be. There is wholeness and there is holiness. But wisdom isn't complete in me the moment I commit my life to God – the fear of the Lord is just “the beginning of wisdom”. Rather, it's the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in my life that brings about this wonderful transformation.
The more open communication there can be between God and me, the more opportunity there will be for my heart and mind to be transformed and for wisdom to grow. I can seek an audience with God! I can open my heart to God, inviting him to instruct me and counsel me (see Psalm 32:8). Though it seems unbelievable, I can even ask God to open his heart to me, that I might see and understand his thoughts and his ways.
Intimacy = “into me see”. I need to seek this intimacy with God not just as I read his Word, or spend focused time in prayer or worship, but also in the midst of every day, in all the goings-on of my life – a never ending conversation of love and transformation.
Thank you Father that your good pleasure is to pour out your love and grace upon me. I welcome you, and ask that as you perfect holiness in me, you will adorn me not just with holiness but also with wisdom.
My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. Proverbs 2:1-6 (NIV)
For a wonderful read about the pursuit of wisdom, see Job 28.
See also, The Bible: Where Do I Start?
Reading: Joshua 6-13
But to the tribe of Levi, Moses had given no inheritance; the Lord, the God of Israel, is their inheritance, as he promised them. Joshua 13:33 (NIV)
The great “divvy up” of the promised land amongst the tribes of Israel must have been a time of great excitement and anticipation. “What will we get? I hope it's nice there!” But the tribe of Levi, whose role was to serve in the house of God, would inherit no land. Instead, God himself would be their inheritance, and they would receive a regular share of the offerings and sacrifices made by the Israelites to God.
I wonder how the Levites felt about that? Were they delighted or disappointed? Did they feel privileged or put out, like winners or like losers in the great inheritance divvy up? I suspect that as a group, and perhaps even as individuals, the Levites experienced the full range of emotions, as I do.
On the one hand, I sometimes desire the things that others have. I like to own things. If I read a real estate magazine, I find myself wanting a new house! When I feed an interest or passion, it grows! On the other hand, I know in my head that what God has for me is better than anything this world has to offer. But how strongly do I believe that in my heart?
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you…” 1 Peter 1:3-4 (NIV)
The value I place on my inheritance has an enormous impact on how I feel and how I live. When I place high value on God, and all that comes with him, I naturally look to him for joy and fulfilment. He becomes the focus of my attention and the object of my affections. Investing energy into being close to him is easy because it's what I most want to do.
But when I allow other things to capture my heart – even good things – so that I unconsciously begin to value them more than God, I find myself looking to those things for fulfilment. They become the focus of my attention and the object of my affections, while pursuing God becomes less appealing than pursuing this new thing.
I want God to be my first love, and so I need to guard my heart by giving him the first share of my time. Making time with God my first priority will help me to keep other passions in perspective, because when it all comes down, they will pass, but what I have in God will last forever. “Every good and perfect gift is from above…” (James 1:17), and the passion that I feed the most will inevitably become the strongest.
Father, thank you so much for the privilege of being invited into your presence, to enjoy your amazing love and grace forever. Nothing else can possibly match that. Help me God to keep my eyes fixed on you. I don't want anything else to ensnare me or steal that number one place in my heart. You Lord are my inheritance, and I choose to put you first, ahead of everything else.
“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4
Reading: Jeremiah 2-3:5
“ ‘I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert, through a land not sown. Israel was holy to the Lord, the first-fruits of his harvest; all who devoured her were held guilty, and disaster overtook them,’ ” declares the Lord. Jeremiah 2:2-4 (NIV)
Israel was once enamoured by God, but their love had grown cold. This same accusation is made by Jesus in Revelation 2 to the Church of the Ephesians: “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.”
Even worse, Israel had taken up with other gods, gods of stone and wood who could not help them. “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:13). In losing their first love, something else had taken its place, something that could not possibly satisfy.
I need to hold fast to God. As in a marriage relationship, feelings of affection sometimes well up in what we call 'love'. Often, however, love consists of actions purposefully carried out as the outward expression of a commitment made. To make decisions that line up with this internal commitment, even when my feelings betray me – that is love.
Consistently choosing to act in ways that protect and value my commitment to God and my relationship with Him is my outward expression of love and my true worship. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Romans 12:1) So love and worship go hand in hand.
Thank you Father for reaching out to me, not as a distant and inaccessible God, but as one who is close and intimate. Help me to always act in accordance with my commitment to you, and may my love for you never grow cold, but forever burn bright and clear.
For more on this topic, you might like to read my previous post Jesus – My First Love. Same theme – completely different part of the Bible!
Reading: Revelation 1-2:7
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. Revelation 2:4-5 (NIV)
God is interested in my love ('agape' in the Greek). Yes, my good works, my obedience, my perseverance under hardship – all these are important, if not vital. But my affection toward him is the number one thing. “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:29-30).
My love for God is what energises my relationship. It determines how I relate to God, what I do, how I think, how I respond to things, how I spend my time. Take the love away and it becomes just a set of practices.
The love Jesus describes is not just a feeling. “Repent,” he says, “and do the things you did at first.” To repent is to “think differently i.e. reconsider, or change your mind.” To do the things you did at first implies that my love needs to be out-worked, revealing itself in my actions.
It is possible for me to let my relationship with God slip, so that instead of the passionate all-consuming fervour and hunger that I once felt, it becomes just a set of religious practices, making me not much different than a Rotarian or a volunteer with an aid organisation.
What should absolutely define me is my love for God – expressed in the way I seek him, and make time with him my number one priority; expressed in my worship of him, and the conversation I have with him. And of course, expressed in my obedience to him, placing everything that I have into his hands. Love is like a fire that I need to regularly feed so that it burns strong and hot!
Thank you Lord Jesus that not only do you know me, but you love me, and you actually value my love for you. What an incredible privilege! I choose to delight in you. Help me to draw close to you, and I pray that you would reveal yourself to me, that I might truly know you and love you.
See also: First Things First
Reading: Exodus 29-30
Make these into a sacred anointing oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer. It will be the sacred anointing oil.
Then use it to anoint the Tent of Meeting, the ark of the Testimony, the table and all its articles, the lamp stand and its accessories, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the basin with its stand.
You shall consecrate them so they will be most holy, and whatever touches them will be holy. Exodus 30:25-29 (NIV)
Everything in the Tent of Meeting had an aroma, a unique aroma that was not allowed to be used anywhere else. The recipe was given directly by God, and it was to be considered holy.
I wonder what it would have been like to be the perfumer, the man who carefully followed the recipe from God to prepare this sacred anointing oil, the “aroma of God”. How careful he must have been, how diligent to ensure that all was done according to God's prescription. Though he wasn't a priest, he enjoyed an immense privilege, and was one of the team of people God chose to help represent his presence in a physical tangible way, in what people could see, hear, smell, touch and even taste.
God still chooses people – men, women and children, to represent himself to mankind. God gives us the privilege of ushering others into his presence in many different ways, often according to the gifts he has given us, our personality, or the situation in which he has placed us. More than that, we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the aroma of Christ is in us.
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.” 2 Corinthians 2:14-15 .
Sharing God with others, and ushering them into his presence in whatever ways I can is worthy of my time, my careful thought, and my best efforts. These are my offering and my privilege.
Jesus, please cleanse me of anything that would distract from the purity of your aroma in me. As one who is made holy, may I be a workman who is approved by you and available for any task that you would have me do.
Reading: Psalm 102
Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly. Psalm 102:2-3 (NIV)
Right at the beginning of Psalm 102, the writer pleads with God, “Do not hide your face from me…” What is it about a person's face that is so important? Of the five senses, touch is the only one that doesn't rely on the face. The face is where we see into a person, like a window into the person's thoughts and feelings. But a person's face is also a window through which they can look to see into us.
To hide your face from someone speaks of cutting off communication with them. But even if we can't see a person's face, we may still be able to hear their voice. And so we see that God draws us to himself even when we are far from him, calling us to turn from our sinfulness and come into his very Presence. The final verse of the psalm reveals once again, as all through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, what God's intention for us is: “The children of your servants will live in your presence…” (vs 28).
When Jesus won victory over sin and death at the cross, he did something wonderful – he opened up a window between me and God. It's a window through which I can see God – his thoughts and his feelings, and his holiness – and through which God looks into me. Yes, “everything is open and laid bare” before his eyes (Heb 4:13), but before, his face was turned away from me because of my sin. Now my sin is gone. I have been made holy by the completed work of Jesus on the cross. Now, God's face is turned towards me.
I imagine myself walking up to a wide open window and talking with God as he leans on the smooth wooden sill, his face turned towards mine. The sun shines and a warm breeze gently blows. This is why I was made – to commune with my awesome and approachable Creator.
Thank you Jesus that you have opened up for me this window of opportunity to come close to you, and see into your heart. May the window always remain open, and may the sill be worn smooth from time spent leaning on it and talking with you.