Face Like Flint

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A Shutterstock Free Image

I read Andrew Murray’s 31 day devotional Abide In Christ throughout the month of July.  In it, Mr. Murray quotes from different books and, since Andrew Murry has long been a trusted teacher of mine; I figured I could trust his recommendations and acquired the books for myself.  One of their number is The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith.  What an excellent book!  It opens with a poem that put into words exactly how I’ve been feeling and each chapter has spoken to me in a specific way.  This week, I want to share a few things from Chapter 8 of this delightful book.  Chapter 8 is titled “Difficulties Concerning Guidance”.

The Gospel of John chapter 10 is devoted to Jesus being the Good Shepherd, calling His sheep by name, going before them, the sheep knowing His voice, and being guided by Him.  Verse 5 says, “Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him for they do not know the voice of strangers.”  This verse makes it clear there are multiple voices calling to the sheep.  All but one are the voices of strangers.  How do we sheep hear the One Voice, recognize it, and follow it above the din of all the others?  Fortunately, our religious systems present us with lists of Do’s and Don’ts and that makes it easy to discern the voices of strangers because they are the voices of the World and the voice of the Shepherd is found in these systems.  Right?  What if the voice you are hearing is saying something different than what you are hearing within your particular denomination?  Can you trust that voice and be guided by it?  Is it even possible the Voice of the Good Shepherd would say something different?

Hannah Whitall Smith opens Chapter 8 with, “You have now begun, dear reader, the life of faith.  You have given yourself to the Lord to be His wholly and altogether, and you are now entirely in His hands to be molded and fashioned according to His own divine purpose into a vessel unto His honor.  Your one most earnest desire it to follow Him whithersoever He may lead you, and to be very pliable in His hands; and you are trusting Him to ‘work in you to will and to do of his good pleasure.’ But you find a great difficulty here. You have not learned yet to know the voice of the Good Shepherd, and are therefore in great doubt and perplexity as to what really is His will concerning you.  Perhaps there are certain paths into which God seems to be calling you, of which your friends disapprove.  And these friends, it may be, are older than yourself in the Christian life, and seem to you also to be much farther advanced.  You can scarcely bear to differ from them or to distress them; and you feel also very diffident of yielding to any seeming impressions of duty of which they do not approve.”

This book was written in 1875 and what she wrote then is true today.  It’s been close to eighteen years now since The Holy Spirit opened my eyes to the Gospel, the heart of the Father, and the vast inheritance that is mine in Jesus Christ.  I was overjoyed when I first saw and went to share with my Christian friends who were not, to my surprise, overjoyed as well but rather concerned for me.  They had scriptures to back up their concern.  “Satan transforms himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14), and “many will fall away from the faith” (1 Timothy 4:1).  I did not think I was falling away but rather daring to believe what was written in the New Testament but there was also the possibility my friends were correct and I was not truly hearing the Good Shepherd.  What to do?  How to be sure?

The Holy Spirit brought to mind the fact that it is “by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established” (2 Corinthians 13:1, Deuteronomy 19:15).  I asked Him to confirm his word by at least three witnesses and He did so.  Hannah Whitall Smith says there are four ways in which He reveals His will to us: through the Scriptures, through providential circumstances, through the conviction of our own higher judgment, and through the inward impression of the Holy Spirit on our minds.

She also warns, “For we must never forget that ‘impressions’ can come from other sources as well as from the Holy Spirit.  The strong personalities of those around us are the source of a great many of our impressions.  Impressions also arise often from our wrong physical conditions, which color things far more than we dream.  And finally, impressions come from those spiritual enemies which seem to lie in wait for every traveler who seeks to enter the higher regions of the spiritual life.”

If we can’t trust our own impressions, what then?  Hannah Whitall Smith says her “rule for distinguishing the voice of God would bring to it the test of this harmony” for “in all true guidance these four voices necessarily harmonize for God cannot say in one voice that which He contradicts in another.”

Great care must be taken in this learning to know the voice of the Good Shepherd.  “It is not enough to have a ‘leading’; we must find out the source of that leading before we give ourselves up to follow it.  It is not enough, either, for the leading to be very ‘remarkable’ or the coincidences to be very striking , to stamp it as being surely from God…It is essential, therefore, that our ‘leadings’ should always be tested by the teachings of Scripture…as well as by our own spiritually enlightened judgment.”  

I wholeheartedly agree.  If the voice I am hearing is that of the Holy Spirit within me, it will not ever contradict Scripture.  It is the Logos and the Rhema: they cannot possible contradict each other.  Now, they might contradict how scripture has been interpreted throughout the centuries.  I never forget it is the Holy Spirit who is my teacher and who guides me into all truth.  I find study to be of incredible importance but ultimately it is He who interprets scripture for me and always, always, His voice and Scripture are in harmony.  Taking scripture as a whole is also important.  I have seen the dangers myself and Hannah Whitall Smith warns against taking isolated texts to sanction things to which the principals of Scripture are totally opposed.  “I believe all fanaticism comes in this way,” she says.

As to our spiritually enlightened judgment or “common sense”, what of this?  Aren’t we told to take care not to lean on our own understanding?  Absolutely, and Hannah Whitall Smith admonishes us to “use the interior ‘eyes of our understanding’ in our interior walk with God”.  We can trust Him to take care of even this.  The prayer in Ephesians 1:17-23 is essential to us as Believers.  And, we can trust that He who has begun a good work in us will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6) and that the precious blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ will “cleanse our consciences from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14). 

Suppose then the Scriptures, the conviction of our higher judgment, and the inward impressions of the Holy Spirit on our minds are all in accord.  God has providentially arranged our circumstances so there is no hindrance to our following His voice and doing the work He has given us to do.  Suppose all our friends and perhaps even our families are still convinced the Voice is not the Good Shepherd at all?  Suppose our loved ones sadly shake their heads and solemnly wash their hands of us?  Suppose that as Hannah Whitall Smith writes, “His very love for you may perhaps lead you to run counter to the loving wishes of even your dearest friends.  You must learn, from Luke 14: 26-33, and similar passages, that in order to be a disciple and follower of our Lord, you may perhaps be called upon to forsake inwardly all that you have, even father or mother, or brother or sister, or husband or wife, or it may be your own life also.”

I don’t pretend such a choice is easy but, precious fellow Believer, does the Word of the Living God burn in the very marrow of your bones?  Have you found that treasure that is worth selling everything in order to possess?  Do you understand how so many have faced death with praises to God on their lips? Do you hear His voice and know there is no life worth living unless you follow Him?  Then, set your face as flint, fix your eyes on Jesus, and follow the Lamb, wherever He goes.  In the upper room, just before He faces betrayal, abonnement, and death, Jesus says, “Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me” (John 16:32). 

It is not possible that we can be alone.  Even if every friend we have and all of our family abandons us, the Father is with us.  Let us go forth in the surety that we are safe in the palm of His hand and that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of Christ.  There is a song I used to sing eons ago in Vacation Bible School: “I have decided to follow Jesus.  No turning back, no turning back.  If you won’t go with me, still I will follow.  No turning back, no turning back.”

So be it.

I wrote a poem about my seeking the Lord. Read it here

Unless noted otherwise, scriptures are quoted from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1982

All quotes are taken from The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith, New Spire Edition published 2012 by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan, “Difficulties Concerning Guidance”, Chapter 8, Pages 87-100.

Joy and Grace

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A few weeks ago, one of the teachers at the church I attend via Zoom said, “We stand and fall by our definitions”.  That struck me and I wrote it down.  I have been thinking how true that statement is.  While conducting my study on The Fruit of the Spirit, I realized my belief in the meaning of a word also meant I brought that preconceived idea to scripture.  Of course I knew what patience was, what peace was, what joy was, etc. because I understood the definitions of all these words.  I had barely begun my study before I realized how incorrect that assumption was: I didn’t really know what these words meant at all.

I have been meaning to look at the meaning of the Grace of God because I came across a statement while studying The Fruit of the Spirit: Joy.  I was looking up joy in The Dictionary of New Testament Theology and read this: “Also to be noted is the etymological connection with charis (grace) which has not always been clearly distinguished in meaning from chara.1 In a brief review: Joy in the Greek is chara (G5479).  It comes from the root word chairo (G5463) which is a primary verb meaning “to be cheerful”.  I did make a note of the connection but, as I was studying joy and not grace, I didn’t pursue it further.

A little time passed and then, while watching one of his teachings, I heard Malcolm Smith say that grace and joy shared a root word.  My attention was caught.  I remembered the statement I’d read and how I meant to take a further look at grace.  And then I got busy with other studies and it went onto a back burner.  Then I saw a post on Instagram which brought the statement, “we stand and fall by our definitions” back to the forefront of my mind.  The Post was by Dictionary.com and said, “True or False?  Grace means having moral, not physical, strength”.  I had to read that a few times because I had not ever defined grace as strength: moral or physical.  My answer would thus be “false” but I realized I wasn’t certain.  I had intended to look up the meaning of grace but had gotten sidetracked.  I would be sidetracked no longer.  I got to work.

The church world I’ve been part of has defined grace for me as “unmerited favor” and I’ve never questioned that.  Perhaps I should have done because, as I read through the scriptures listed under Grace in the Strong’s Concordance while substituting “unmerited favor”, I find the scriptures cease to make sense.  I could not come boldly before the throne of “unmerited favor” nor does it make sense that, in doing so, I would find the “unmerited favor” to help in time of need (Hebrews. 4:16).  It does not make sense that His “unmerited favor” would be sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9) nor does it make sense that, in describing Jesus, Luke’s Gospel would say “the unmerited favor of God was upon Him” (Luke 2:40).  How can Paul say he does not frustrate the “unmerited favor” of God (Galatians 2:21) or tell the Galatians they have fallen from “unmerited favor” (Galatians 5:4)?

As an interesting experiment (because Dictionary.com might know something I do not), I read through the list using “strength”.  That didn’t make much sense either although I did find the idea of strength in some of the scriptures.  In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul does say, “according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power” (Ephesians 3:7) and he does tell Timothy to, “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1).  So then my answer to Dictionary.com’s mini quiz is no longer unequivocally “false” but then neither is my answer “true”.  We stand and fall by our definitions.  That being so, what does grace really mean?

My trusty New World Dictionary gives me quite an extensive definition.  I won’t share the entire entry for the sake of space but I find grace defined as: pleasing quality, favor, thanks, to lift up the voice in praise, an attractive quality, a sense of what is right or proper, thoughtfulness toward others, good will, mercy, clemency, etc.  Under definition number 10 I do find “the unmerited love and favor of God toward man”.2

The Strong’s Concordance doesn’t necessarily disagree with the dictionary but I do not find any definition of unmerited favor, or strength for that matter.  The Strong’s Concordance entry for charis (G5485) is: from 5463; graciousness (as gratifying) of manner or act (abstr. Or concr,; lit., fig., or spiritual; espec. the divine influence upon the heart and its reflection in the life; incl. gratitude), acceptable, benefit, favor, gift, grace (-cious), joy, liberality, pleasure, thank (-s, worthy)”.3 I repeat, there is nothing here to suggest grace means “unmerited favor”.  And, it is interesting to note grace does come from the root word chairo (G5463) which is a primary verb meaning “to be cheerful”.  Grace and Joy are related to each other.  These two words are not interchangeable but, because they are members of the same word family, they have a common feature, pattern, or meaning.4 This is definitely a time to Selah: pause and calmly think of that!

What conclusion do I draw?  I go back to the list of scriptures in the concordance and read them again, this time plugging in Strong’s definition, especially the words “the divine influence upon the heart and its reflection in the life”.  I thrill at Paul’s greeting in his letters.  “Grace be to you and peace from God…” I read through the scriptures and know that I am just beginning to understand the Grace of God.  I read through the scriptures and am reminded of Ezekiel 36 verses 25-27: “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” 

John 1:17 says, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”  2 Corinthians 1:20 says, “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.”  This is what I see as the Grace of God.  It is a revelation of His heart.  It is summed up in Jesus Christ.  It is His free gift to me in His Spirit.  It is God keeping the promise He made in Ezekiel.  The Grace of God is Him keeping all His promises. He has His own joy and that too He freely gives to me.

Is it unmerited?  Of course.  I can’t begin to fathom the heart of God much less begin to think I deserved any of His gifts.  But then, He keeps His promises because of who He is, not because of anything I could ever do or not do.  All I can do is say, “Yes.  Thank you.  I receive it.  Hallelujah!  Amen.”

And Amen.

Unless noted otherwise, scriptures are quoted from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1982

References

  1. Brown, Colin, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1986, Joy, Page 356
  2. Guralnik, David B., Webster’s New World Dictionary of The American Language, William Collins+World Publishing Company, Cleveland-New York, 1974
  3. Strong, James, The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1990
  4. “Word Family”, What is a Word Family? | Word Families | Examples (twinkl.com)

Supplication

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A poem inspired by Hebrews 1:1-2

Supplication

Jesus, Lord of my Beginning
Origin of all I see
Hear me as I cry to You
Come beside and comfort me
Tell me who I truly am
Remind me of the name I lost
Keep my heart anchored in Yours
Because on rough waves I am tossed.

Jesus, Lord of all my Wanderings
God of the Middle too
Upholding all things with Your Word
Nothing exists outside of You
Lead me through this present darkness
Illuminate me with Your Light
Hide me in Your Secret Place
Where there is found no more night.

Jesus, Lord of where I’m Ending
All Creation rests in You
Show me more than merest inkling
Tell me all that You will do
Speak words of Consuming Fire
That will cleanse and purify
Pull me close and keep me sheltered
As we live life eye to eye.

Show me who I’m meant to be
So You alone I glorify.

I Die Daily

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I have been thinking about surrender.  The surrender of our lives, our wills, to God.  It’s a subject I’ve heard Christians using a great deal lately and I used in last week’s post.  I wrote about it as something I did in the past and that’s how I’ve been hearing it used; as if surrender to God is a one-time thing.  I can’t speak for anyone else but I’ve found it’s a choice I make on a daily basis.  In my experience, both the big moment of surrender and then the daily surrenderings are both true.

I have a moment of utter surrender in my life.  It was so momentous that it does separate my life into BEFORE and AFTER.  Various crises and experiences had brought me to a place where I was willing to consider that I was a Christian only because I’d been raised to be one.  Perhaps nothing I believed was true.  I needed to know the Truth, whatever that was.  Everything AFTER that moment has been a glorious adventure of God revealing Himself to me.  It has also been an endurance race of terrible pressures and processing.  There have been times when I’ve drooped on the edge of my bed so raw on the inside that I’ve felt that, if one more thing dropped on me, I would die.  I do not speak in hyperbole: my feelings had a very real effect in and on my body.  My prayers were not great prayers of faith during these times but were rather, “please.  I can’t take anymore.

The pressure would let up for maybe a day.  There would be a moment of refreshing and then it would start all over again.  I didn’t understand what was happening in those early days.  I came to recognize these-shall I call them near death experiences?-were but the portent to a deeper experience of the Life of Jesus Christ being formed in me.  Knowing this does not make these experiences hurt less but it does allow me to experience them in hope.  Jesus has not come into my life and changed my circumstances around so that all is sweetness and light and frolicking in the fields with nary a care or a need and no personal cross in sight.  His coming into my life, into my very self, has often meant circumstances have gotten worse rather than better.  It’s meant destruction of my flesh life but not my real life which is hid in Him.  He has overcome.  He has given His life to me.  He is Lord of my circumstances and will work victory in my life but it requires choosing on my part.  I surrender to Him not once but every moment. 

The reason I was thinking about surrendering as being both a one time and an every moment experience is because I had an opportunity to surrender to the workings of the Life of Christ on the inside of me.  I had a person say one thing about me to my face and then say the opposite thing to anyone who would listen.  I was angry, embarrassed, hurt, and betrayed.  One of my first impulses was to run to someone I knew would listen to ME.  I wanted to pour out the story and have someone tell me how terrible it was, what a big meanie that other person turned out to be, and pour the balm of commiseration on my feelings. 

Right along with this impulse came the command from the Holy Spirit to do no such thing!  I was to be silent!  I was to put this situation and all my resulting feelings in His hands.  Not only that, I was to allow His forgiveness to flow.  My primary desire is to be obedient in all things but I have to admit there are times I feel like I’m choking on said obedience.  It was a fight to obey.  Obedience meant dying to my self-righteousness and living unto Him.  Within a few days, I read something that confirmed my belief that surrendering is not something I did in the past but something I must continue to do every day.  I’ve been going through Andrew Murray’s Abide In Christ devotional and, in the entry for day sixteen, I read:     

“And such surrender of all for Christ, is it a single step, the act and experience of a moment, or is it a course of daily renewed and progressive attainment?  It is both.  There may be a moment in the life of a believer when he gets a first sight, or a deeper insight, of this most blessed truth, and when, made willing in the day of God’s power, he does indeed, in an act of the will, gather up the whole of life yet before him into the decision of a moment, and lay himself on the altar a living and acceptable sacrifice.  Such moments have often been the blessed transition from a life of wandering and failure to a life of abiding and power divine.  But even then his daily life becomes, what the life must be of each one who has no such experience, the unceasing prayer for more light on the meaning of entire surrender, the ever-renewed offering up of all he has to God.”1

After I read this, I began meditating on an interesting verse in 1 Corinthians 15.  “I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily” the Apostle Paul says (verse 31).  He says this in the midst of speaking of Christ being raised from the dead, His being raised the promise that we too shall be raised, His reigning until all enemies are destroyed, including death, what our heavenly bodies are like…in the midst of all this comes “I die daily.”  I used to think that a strange thing to say until I consider it in the light of both my experience and other scriptures.

In Matthew 16: 24-28 I find, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me’.”  I have often heard people saying “This is my cross to bear” and by that they mean a co-worker, a neighbor, a family member, or a disease or physical limitation.  I look at this verse and I see they are half right.  The co-worker, neighbor, family member, disease, and physical limitation might be the circumstance that contains the cross but the cross is there for us to die on.  And, I notice how many action verbs there are in this passage.  This denying myself, this taking up of my cross, this following Him is not a one-time moment of surrender.  It is a choice I make every day and I find I have plenty of opportunities each and every day in which to make it.

I die daily.  The Apostle Paul has to be speaking of the little deaths I have no doubt he had to die every day. I read his letters and read of those who followed around behind him disparaging him, his intellect, twisting his message, and imposing legalism on the precious believers. And yet, I don’t get any sense of frustration here.  I read it more as “I die daily!” It is a thing of great joy. 

I understand that joy because I surrender nothing to God but what He does not give me Himself.  Any vindication I would feel at defending myself, any pleasure I would get at retaliation, any feelings of superiority that would come from shredding someone else’s character…all of it belongs to that realm of the flesh-life.  I’m reminded of Proverbs 14:12: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”  I see this reflected in the words of Jesus as I continue to read in Matthew 16:  “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” 

 I always read this scripture and thought it referred to the actual laying down of my life: physical death. My Mom reminded me of a passage in The Song of Solomon: “Catch the foxes for us, yes, the little foxes!  They are ruining the vineyards when our vineyards are in bloom!” (SOS 2:152).  Expositions and commentaries have told me this passage is referring to little sins like jealousy, pride, etc.  I don’t disagree and yet I do think this passage can be applied to the hurts and wrongs that come throughout our daily lives.  Jesus is the vine and I am the branch abiding in Him.  Refusal to surrender to Him when someone wrongs me either behind my back or directly to my face, quenches the Spirit.  Left undealt with, they become the little foxes that destroy the vineyard in bloom.  I see here a picture of a life that cannot bear fruit.

The message during this Sunday’s Church Service was on Psalm 1 and I was struck by verse 3: “He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season.”  In season.  It doesn’t happen all at once which is something that makes me deeply grateful as I don’t always feel victorious.  I still have a way to go in surrendering because my first impulses do not align with who I am in Christ.  Neither does forgiveness happen instantaneously.  But then, His expectation is that I bear fruit in season.  He remembers I am but dust (Psalm 103:14).  I reckon myself dead to sin and alive to Christ (Romans 6:11) and I am confident that He who began a good work in me will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).

Even so, Come Lord Jesus.   

Unless notes otherwise, scriptures are quoted from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1982

References

  1. Murray, Andrew, Abide in Christ, Barbour and Company, Inc., Uhrichsville, OH, 1985, Page 97
  2. Stern, David H., The Complete Jewish Study Bible, Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC, Peabody, Massachusetts, 2016

Refusing the Golden Apples

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Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

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!”

And amen.

  1. Bulfinch, Thomas, Bulfinch’s Mythology, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 1979, Pages 141-143
  2. Strong, James, The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1990
  3. Brown, F., Driver, S., Briggs, C., The Grown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts, Eighteenth Printing-September 2018, Page 639
  4. The Comparative Study Bible, The Zondervan Corporation, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1984