How great is our God! The Holy Spirit gave me a book. It is the book I was looking for that I did not know existed. It is the book that answers a question I could not answer on my own, no matter how I scoured Bible translations and paraphrases, reference books, dictionaries, concordances, and commentaries. I am convinced it is the book given to me because I put my question and frustrations at my lack of answers into the hands of My Father and trusted His Spirit would guide me into all truth at the proper time. I am convinced the book is His gift to me because I waited, I listened to His voice, and I obeyed when He told me “no” to all the other books that came across my path.
I started a study on Romans some months-it might even be years-ago. I did not get passed the first chapter. My study book asked me to define Paul’s “obedience to the faith” (Romans 1:5) and I could not do so in any deep and meaningful way. I put aside that study and have been meditating on the meaning of obedience to the faith. I still don’t have a deep and meaningful definition but I cannot stress enough the importance of obedience to the voice of the Holy Spirit. John 16:13 says, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth: for He will not speak of His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” I find this verse beautiful: there is a longing within me to be guided into all Truth and to hear what He is speaking.
I have not found this to be easy. I have been in churches that had no use for supernatural experiences and thus no use for the Holy Spirit. I understand this fear. It was close to eighteen years ago now when I expressed a desire to learn more about the Holy Spirit and prayed some very specific prayers. I do make jokes about being careful what I pray for because I will get an answer and it never comes the way I expect it to! I do joke and I do pray with deep consideration but I wouldn’t take anything back. My life is not worth living if not lived in union with Jesus and the Father and the Spirit. It’s a crazy life and feels a bit like freefall. I have promises from Scripture and expectations of them being fulfilled in my life but absolutely no expectation as to how they are going to be fulfilled. This is frightening but I received a promise from my Father when He first placed my feet on this path and it was that He loved me, I was in His hand, and He would never drop me. The only response I had was surrender. I want to assure you that our God is trustworthy and He does keep our feet from slipping.
And yet…there is a learning process. Discernment, knowing His voice and obeying it did not instantaneously happen. There was a great deal of trial and error. I made mistakes. There were many times when I did not recognize His voice until after the fact and then was left with “if only I’d listened”. These were valuable mistakes though as I have learned to recognize His voice and the value of immediate obedience, even when that obedience seems foolish. Malcolm Smith has a fantastic teaching on his YouTube Channel about this called When Iron Swims (see below). I have learned to obey without always knowing why and yet it still isn’t always easy. I find obedience especially difficult when it comes to study and purchasing books. I am an unapologetic book lover and love to learn. There is not one subject that does not interest me and I find I have to put my books away and spend quality time with the Spirit. I have to listen and obey when He says “no, don’t buy that one” and that is VERY difficult. Intellectual pursuits are the biggest distraction for me when it comes to strengthening my relationship with God.
I was thinking about intellectual pursuits being a distraction and was reminded of the myth of Atalanta. Briefly, her story is this: An Oracle tells Atalanta not to marry for marriage will be her ruin. Atalanta thus attempts to dissuade her suiters by stating she’d only marry if a man could outrun her in a footrace: failure to do so would result in death. The judge of this footrace is Hippomenes and he thinks the men are fools for agreeing to it until he sets eyes on Atalanta. Of course, all the men fail to win and all are killed. Hippomenes then puts himself forward but, before running the race, appeals to Aphrodite who bestows three golden apples upon him. Hippomenes tosses them to the ground at various points during the race, distracts Atalanta from running, and manages to win the race.1
It is the golden apples along the path I am thinking of. There are many scriptures that liken this Christian life to a race to be run. I have found it isn’t like running on a track where the lanes are marked and the way is left clear. I have found my particular race to be difficult. The path is cluttered and sometimes obscured. Deviating from the myth, the race does not consist of mere running towards a goal. There are times of refreshing, tastings of all that awaits, fruit to be enjoyed, which is why these distractions work. They look like the real deal.
There are times when distractions are rolled in front of me like golden apples. As long as they hold my attention, I am kept from moving forward. These distractions appear to be good things. They look valuable. They look as if they would help me to fulfill the calling on my life. They look like they would help strengthen me to run this race. To a one, these distractions have proven to be a lie and a trap. A trap as they hold my mind captive and blind me to the things of God. A lie as they invariably prove not to be gold at all.
There is a Hebrew word I like: Nehushtan (Strong’s H5180). It is the name the Israelites gave to the bronze serpent Moses made when they burned incense to it (2 Kings 18:4). It is a word that means copper or bronze, base compared to gold or silver2, comparative unimportance of material.3 The Amplified Bible calls Nehushtan “a bronze trifle”4. It might glitter but it is not gold: it’s Nehushtan.
I am still learning what it means to “love the Lord with all my mind” (Deuteronomy 6:4-7, Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:27) and to “lean not on my own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5-6). There are so many things that vie for my attention. They appear in my path, sometimes they roll to the side and seek to compel me to leave my path. They sparkle in the sunlight and I am not able to discern between gold and a cheap imitation. I do know every treasure I have sought on my own has ended up being Nehushtan. My Father knows. His voice alone is true. He alone gives real fruit. He alone has gold that contains nothing base for it has been tried, refined, in the fire. He alone keeps me from distractions, pretty and shiny as they may be, and reminds me I don’t pursue myths but run for an incorruptible prize (1 Corinthians 9:25). The greatest gifts come through obedience to Him.
Heavenly Father, continue to give me ears to hear none but You. Continue to open the eyes of my heart that I might see You. Lead me into smooth paths for Your name’s sake. To You who never leaves me nor forsakes me, I lift my voice and cry, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Amen!”
- Bulfinch, Thomas, Bulfinch’s Mythology, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 1979, Pages 141-143
- Strong, James, The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1990
- Brown, F., Driver, S., Briggs, C., The Grown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts, Eighteenth Printing-September 2018, Page 639
- The Comparative Study Bible, The Zondervan Corporation, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1984