Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Prayer and Faith

“The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” (John 4:50b)

We are all in the school of prayer. Anyone who prays is still enrolled and Jesus intends to keep us growing. We have in John 4:46-54 an account that helps me understand one way Jesus continues to school me in prayer. Perhaps you’ll see a reflection of the lessons He is teaching you as well.

Jesus was petitioned by a man to “come down and heal his son” (v.47). The matter was urgent because the son was near death (v.49b). We can plainly see that the man wanted Jesus not merely to heal his son, but to be present physically with the son when He did so (vv.47, 49).

Jesus told the man, “Go; your son will live” (v.50a).

In so responding to the desperate father’s request, Jesus refused part of the man’s request (to come down with him to visit his son) and granted the other part of his request (to heal his son). The one was unnecessary (though the man may not have perceived it as such that at the time); the other was essential. Jesus gave the man that which was essential. But He did so in a way that tested the man’s faith by telling him the essential would be granted (the healing) while the unnecessary (the going) would not.

How did the desperate father respond?

“The man believed the word that Jesus spoke” and proved it when he “went on his way” without Jesus in tow (v.50b).

When I pray and ask Jesus to act, it is likely that my requests, like the father’s, are a mingling of the essential and non-essential. It all likely feels essential to me, but my faith needs refining—as did the father’s. Jesus may separate the wheat from the chaff in my praying by granting me one thing, while denying me another that I have also asked for.

What do I do after Jesus responds to my prayers, granting some and denying others? Do I ask Him to reveal His heart to me in these things? To teach me wisdom? Do I draw nearer to Him in prayer, asking for more understanding? Or do I back away, confused and upset? Or do I, like the father, believe the word of Jesus and prove it by my faith-filled actions?

Our prayers are the footprints that tell the tale of our discipleship, our journey after Jesus as our Master and Teacher. What tale is being told by my praying?

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The Spirit and the Word

“… the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17)

“Remember that the Spirit of God inspired the Word and He will be revealed in the Word. I really have no place in my sympathies for those Christians who neglect the Word or ignore the Word or get revelations apart from the Word. This is the Book of God, after all, and if we know the Book well enough, we will have an answer to every problem in the world. …

The Holy Ghost wrote the Word, and if you make much of the Word, He will make much of you. It is through the Word that He reveals Himself. Between those covers is a living Book. God wrote it and it is still vital and effective and alive. God is in this Book, the Holy Ghost is in this Book, and if you want to find Him, go into this Book.” (A.W. Tozer, The Tozer Pulpit, 2:116-117)

Concluding Punctuation’s Point

“I will question you …” (Job 38:3a; 40:7; 42:4)

“Jesus said to them, ‘I will ask you one question …'” (Mark 11:29)

Periods are boundary markers. They limit, mark off, define. Periods are specks, scattered indiscriminately and profusely across the landscape of our conversations to guide us on our way. Periods are plentiful, profuse, prolific–with a gestation of mere seconds before one spawns a fresh litter of statements, assertions and observations. Periods are too commonplace to arrest anyone’s attention. Periods can become self-centered–too quick to assert what one thinks he knows. Periods at one and the same time both define and bore.

Explanation points on the other hand are tall, elegant and demanding. Exclamation points are brash, bold and boisterous.  They are found far less frequently than the common period, but in this way they serve their purpose–to arouse interest, to demand attention, to scream “Here! Look at me!” Yet the exclamation point’s power diminishes with its proliferation. Not everything can be urgent and ultimate. Not everything can be equally worthy of immediate attention.

Then there is the question mark–that lonely, bent figure, humbled under the weight of its query. What is this? Is a question mark a period risen up in protest in the face of assertions and declarations shouted loudly and presumed upon universally? Or is it an exclamation point that has gone off prematurely and now wilted under the weight of what was once giddy excitement and bravado? Or is the question mark a humble, bowing invitation to leave off our boastful assertions and our loud exclamations and to enter into real communication, genuine relationship?

The period is too nondescript to demand attention. The exclamation point is too gaudy for long term serious consideration. The question mark, however, is where real conversation begins. The question mark is the place where communication is birthed.

Preaching Reality

When George Whitfield was asked for the reason behind his impassioned preaching he gave this reply.

“I’ll tell you a story. The Archbishop of Canterbury in the year 1675 was acquainted with Mr. Butterton the [actor]. One day the Archbishop . . . said to Butterton . . . ‘pray inform me Mr. Butterton, what is the reason you actors on stage can affect your congregations with speaking of things imaginary, as if they were real, while we in church speak of things real, which our congregations only receive as if they were imaginary?’ ‘Why my Lord,’ says Butterton, ‘the reason is very plain. We actors on stage speak of things imaginary, as if they were real and you in the pulpit speak of things real as if they were imaginary.’”

“Therefore,” added Whitefield, ‘I will bawl [cry aloud], I will not be a velvet-mouthed preacher.” (Harry S. Stout, The Divine Dramatist: George Whitfield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism, 239–240)

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