Monthly Archives: September 2012

Staying Alive In The Famine Of The Word

I’ve been seeking to pay closer attention to the larger context of Bible passages, and it paid off this morning when in a time of prayer I read Psalm 33.

I noticed that it starts out with a call to rejoice in the LORD, and to praise Him “on an instrument of ten strings.”  The number ten in Scripture usually signifies trouble and testing.  “Ye shall have tribulation ten days…” (Rev. 2.10).  Some people—like this psalmist—love to praise the Lord so much that even their troubles become an instrument on which they praise Him.  They say, “Give me that thing; I can make a tune on that!”

Then in verse four I noticed why the psalmist was rejoicing.

For the word of the LORD is right; and all His works are done in truth (in faithfulness).

The psalmist is rejoicing in the Lord and praising Him because of His Word.  In all His troubles he had something solid to stand on, something reliable, something faithful and sure in a fickle unstable unfriendly world.

Then he says this:

By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.

This is the verse that stood out for me this morning.  “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.”  Notice this—“the word of the LORD… the breath of His mouth.”  Have you ever tried to speak holding your breath?  It can’t be done.  The words you speak are carried by your breath.  The word of God by which He created the Heavens and all the host of them was a word from His mouth, a word borne by His breath—His Spirit.  It was a living creative word.  And so the psalmist continues:

Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.
For He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.

This is why the psalmist was rejoicing.  In the creation right before his eyes he had evidence that God’s word—the kind of word that His breath impels—is right.  What God says is done; what God commands stands fast.

Now the reason why I said it paid off to read the verses of this psalm in their larger context.  Toward the end of the psalm are these verses:

Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon them that fear Him, upon them that hope in His mercy;
To deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.

Considering the context of the psalm, he is not talking about literal famine.  As grievous as that is in our world there is a greater more serious issue—the famine of hearing the words of the Lord.  For, “man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Mt. 4.4).

It’s quite familiar these days, but let’s remind ourselves of that prophecy in Amos once again.

Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD:
And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it (Amos 8.11,12).

We are in that famine right now, fellow Christian.  These days it’s very difficult to hear the kind of word that is a living word—the kind of word that is borne by the His Breath and proceedeth from His mouth—the kind of indispensible word we need this day for our daily bread.

But the psalmist rejoices.  He has the promise—and God’s word is right.

Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon them that fear Him, upon them that hope in His mercy;
To deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.

“Behold,” he says.  Do we see this?  What a comfort to see this—His eye is upon them that fear Him, upon them that hope in His mercy.  He will deliver us from the state of death that so many around us live comfortably in—for the moment.  He will keep us alive in famine.

How does He do this?  As long as things are going okay in our lives it doesn’t seem all that important to be hearing a living word from God.    As long as we are prospering in peace we do quite nicely, thank you.  It doesn’t matter to us that we are not hearing from God.

But when things start to unravel–maybe we are not quite there yet, but we are going to be– and when people get desperate… and get thinking… and become aware they are out of touch with God, and run to the church on the corner and go away to look elsewhere (for sadly all too often His living word can’t be found in the church on the corner anymore) they will end up running here and there frantically to find a word from Him.

And will not find it.

Let this perilous neglect not be our testimony.  Let us be numbered among those who fear Him, who recognize continually our need for His lovingkindness and mercy—and seek Him earnestly today for the daily bread that keeps us alive.

We have the promise of the psalmist– who proclaims that the word of the Lord is right– that we shall find it.

Hearing The Living Words Of The Lord

Quaker apostle George Fox tells in his journal of the early years when he struggled continually with his sinful condition and could get no victory.  He sought counsel from various Christians, but time and again came away disappointed and empty.  Nothing they said could deal with his condition.  Then came the day when he heard a voice speaking to him and saying, “There is one who can speak to thy condition—even Christ Jesus.”  It was a life-changing word for Fox, for it was the kind of word that had quickening power in it.   “And when I heard it my heart did leap for joy.”  From this point on Fox walked in a realm of spiritual victory seldom seen in the church from that day to this.

Further back in church history is the story of Augustine who struggled to the point of despair over the lusts of the flesh.  One day he was sitting out in the garden of a friend weeping bitterly when he heard a child next door repeating over and over, “Take up and read, take up and read…”  It seemed strange to Augustine that a child at play would say such words. He got up and ran for the volume of the writings of Paul he had earlier been reading, and when he opened it his eyes fell on the words, “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and make not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof” (Rom. 13.13,14).  Immediately the shackles of his bondage fell from him. Augustine was familiar with these words; he had read them many times before.  But this time they went forth in the power of life that liberated him.

This does not, of course, vindicate the later teachings of Augustine that became foundational Roman Catholic doctrine.  But it certainly causes us to realize that there is a quality to the word of God that we simply cannot do without.  There is more to the word of God than the letter of Scripture.  In Hebrews we read that “the word of God is living, and powerful…”

The founder of the China Inland Mission Hudson Taylor spent many years trying to live the Christian life.  His experience was one of struggle and defeat spliced with times of short-lived victory.  He would begin his day with prayer, but the pressures and burdens and difficulties of life bore down on him.  All too often he found himself irritable with hard thoughts in his mind and unkind words in his mouth.  Taylor described this time in a letter to his sister.

To will was present with me, but how to perform I found not.   Then came the question, is there no rescue?  Must it be thus to the end—constant conflict, and too often defeat? …Instead of growing stronger I seemed to be getting weaker and to have less power against sin; and no wonder, for faith and hope were getting low.  I hated myself, I hated my sin, yet gained no strength against it… Sometimes there were seasons not only of peace but of joy in the Lord; but they were transitory, and at best there was a sad lack of power.

Taylor was very weary of this kind of Christian walk, and not long after this he received a letter from a friend which contained a sentence that transformed his life.  Here is his description of it.

When my agony of soul was at its height, a sentence in a letter… was used to remove the scales from my eyes, and the Spirit of God revealed to me the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I had never known it before.  [He] wrote, ‘But how to get faith strengthened?  Not by striving after faith, but by resting in the faithful One.’

This was the beginning of a new walk for Hudson Taylor.  He had received an empowering revelation of the exchanged life.  It was no longer he who lived, but Christ who lived in Him.  Now instead of striving he rested in Christ, trusting that Christ in Him could and would meet every situation he faced.

The thing is, I read the same words and discover they don’t quite do in me what they did in Hudson Taylor.  What is the difference?  Simply this.  If it is a method or a formula we are seeking we seek in vain.  We too must hear that same living word.  The same God who spoke to Augustine and Fox and Hudson Taylor must speak to you and me.  We must hear for ourselves Him who is seated at the right hand of God and who speaks from the Throne the kind of living word that has quickening authority in it.  He bids us, “Abide in Me, and I in you.”  How can it happen?  Simply because He bids us, and the power of life in His word cements it to us.

I often think of Ezekiel’s experience.  He had seen the magnificent vision of the glory of the Lord, and upon seeing Him fell on his face.  Now he heard a voice of One speaking to him.   “And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee” (Ezek. 2.1).  Now notice the kind of word that the Lord spoke to Ezekiel.  “And the Spirit entered into me when He spake unto me and set me upon my feet…”  Oh to hear this kind of living word—the kind of word that has spiritual authority in it and stands us on our feet, the kind of word that ministers the Spirit into us.

That’s what the New Covenant is supposed to do—and does when it goes forth.  Our need for this is very great in this hour.  We have so much of “the word” available to us; here in western lands we have Bibles coming out our ears, and innumerable sermons are available to us in our churches and on the internet.  But where is that living new-covenant word that is a ministration of the Spirit?  In spite of all we have we are clearly in the days Amos prophesied of—the time of the famine of hearing the words of the Lord (Amos 8.11).  We have so much of the word, but where is the kind of word that when it goes forth causes the Spirit to enter into us—and into others when we open our own mouths to speak—with quickening power?