Reading: Judges 7 and 8
Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family. Judges 8:27 NIV
Gideon, I'd love to know exactly what you were thinking when you decided to make that ephod. I was really enjoying the story up to that point. When you put 120,000 enemy soldiers to flight with only 300 men of your own, that was totally awesome. Four hundred of them for every one of you, and you still sent them packing. Of course, you had God on your side. But still, it must have been terrifying, and exhilarating! I found myself thinking, “Wow, with God, nothing is impossible!”
But then Gideon, you stumbled, and made that ephod that became an object of worship. And what made it such a let down was that after your victory, you were perfectly placed to turn Israel away from their love affair with idols and foreign gods, and back to the One who truly loved them. That was the reason God called you.
I wonder how you feel about it now, looking back? What would you have done differently? And what wisdom would you pass on to me to help me avoid the same trap, the same snare?
Snare: A trap for catching birds or mammals, typically one containing a noose of wire or cord; a thing likely to lure or tempt someone into harm or error.
Nobody intentionally walks into a trap. If someone is caught in a snare, they are generally caught unaware. In the case of Gideon, I suspect that rather than intentionally doing something foolish or wrong, he simply didn't realise that making something from gold to help in the worship of God was the wrong thing to do. He had grown up surrounded by idol worship — perhaps he had never seen God being worshiped in the way God had prescribed, and was simply in error.
But I wonder, did Gideon seek counsel? And did he take heed of the gentle prompting of the Spirit of God as he assumed his leadership role over Israel?
Leadership requires humility. If I am to lead well in whatever role I find myself, whether great or small, two things will keep me from error.
First, I need to humble myself before God and seek his voice, his direction. And second, I need to seek counsel from wise and godly people, that I might not get carried away with my own ideas and somehow stray from the path God would have me to walk.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1 NIV
Thank you Lord that with you, nothing is impossible. Help me always to seek your voice and your guidance, through prayer and through your Word. But I ask too that in this season of my life, and in the seasons to come, you would place around me godly people to advise me and help me stay true to the calling you have placed on my life.
Reading: Psalm 131
My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Psalm 131:1-2 NIV
“Song of Ascents” is a title given to fifteen of the Psalms, 120–134. It is thought these songs were sung by worshippers as they ascended the road to Jerusalem to attend the three pilgrim festivals (see Deuteronomy 16:16), or by the priests as they ascended the fifteen steps to minister at the Temple in Jerusalem.
These songs were not for God's benefit, but for the singers' – to prepare their hearts and minds to enter into the presence of God. This particular song (Psalm 131) was written by David, who seemed to have discovered the secret of intimacy with God.
And what was his secret? Come like a child. In practical terms, that meant putting aside his pride and all efforts to make himself something he wasn't. He knew he couldn't impress God, and he knew he didn't have to.
Instead, he had learned to cultivate that beautiful child-like attitude of surrender and trust that God so enjoys as we come into his presence.
I too need to cultivate that same attitude of surrender and trust.
Cultivate: Break up (soil) in preparation for sowing and planting; promote the growth and development of; foster.
Father, I see that there is such a beautiful simplicity about pleasing you. I want that same attitude that David had, that beautiful child-like attitude of surrender and trust that you so enjoy.
Lord, I give you permission to break up the soil in my heart, that it might be made soft and tender. If there is any stoney attitude or hardness of thinking that needs turning over, please expose it and help me to deal with it.
Is there anything you want to sow and plant in my life? I invite you, please have your way. And I ask you to grant me the wisdom to always remember the way into your presence.
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:17-18 NIV
Reading: Acts 16
Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. Acts 16:6-7 (NIV)
A good thing is not necessarily the right thing to do. Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations, yet the Holy Spirit kept Paul from preaching the Word in the province of Asia, then later blocked his entry into Bithynia to do the same thing. Finally Paul has a vision from God which clarifies where he is to go to preach the Word. All three options were obeying Jesus, but only one of them was the right one.
Why did God not just show Paul and his friends in the first place where they were to go? Was there something he wanted to teach them on the way? Knowing with certainty what is happening next does bring a feeling of security and of being in control. But what if God takes this certainty away? Then, instead of trusting in our circumstances, all we can do is either worry, or trust in him.
I am sure the latter is what God really wants, and is the reason why he sometimes seems to leave us hanging. He is putting us in that place where all we can do is be patient, trust him for the next step, and rest in his hands knowing that he knows the next part of the road even though we don't.
So long as God is in control, I can relax. Then, rather than waiting for my circumstances to give me certainty, I can find certainty in the knowledge that God is good, and he has everything in hand. When options present themselves, I can pray, asking God for wisdom, and then tentatively step forward, trusting God to close some doors and open others. In the meantime, I need to relax and embrace the freedom of not knowing my next step, but knowing that God does.
Father, I thank you for this wonderful example to learn from. Help me to let go, and simply rest in your arms. And when it's time to move, please guide me into things that are not just good, but also within your purpose for me. Holy Spirit, open my ears to clearly hear your voice and help me to keep in step with you.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (NIV)
Reading: Colossians 2
…that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:2a-3 (NIV)
To discover Jesus is to discover “the mystery of God”. He is “the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints [that's us who have believed]. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:26-27).
I picture this mystery of God as being like a bulb in the ground which over “ages and generations” sent up its shoot and grew. In time a plump flower head developed, and all who sought God wondered, “What will the flower look like?” Not until Jesus came and died and then rose from the dead did the flower finally open fully to reveal God's wonderful plan for us. And the plan was Jesus. In him, a living intimate relationship with God can begin as we discover the “surpassing riches of God's grace.”
In hindsight, the plan of God can be seen right through the Old Testament, but how wonderful it is to discover for ourselves the “glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in [us], the hope of glory.”
It's interesting that “All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are “hidden” in Christ. They are not just 'lying on the ground' waiting to be casually picked up. They are only found as I earnestly seek Jesus, searching the written Word to discover the “living Word”, reaching out for him in prayer, and looking to the Holy Spirit to reveal more of Jesus to me.
There is so much more to this “mystery of God” than just the initial discovery. Having found Jesus, I am like an explorer in the desert who has discovered a great archaeological treasure protruding through the sand. Having found it, I start to dig to discover more of what lies hidden below, initially with an excavator, then a spade, then a small trowel, and finally a brush as the beauty and intricacy of the treasure is revealed.
This is not some small artefact to be added to my collection of wisdom and knowledge, but a whole kingdom, a lifetime's worth of treasure hidden in Christ and waiting for me to uncover and enjoy and marvel at.
Lord Jesus, what a privilege that you should open the way for me to know you. I long to know more of you. Thank you for your written Word. I pray that as I read it and ponder on it, you would reveal yourself to me in increasing measure, and bless me with the wisdom and knowledge that are to be found in you.
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: 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?