Tag Archives: the Word of God

It’s Automatic

Last time we talked of Jesus urging His disciples, “If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.”  It’s a warning.  We are to take heed to our hearing.  Whether or not the ground of our heart brings forth the fruit our Lord is looking for depends on the quality of our hearing.  Do we take his word seriously—that shallow soil or weed-infested ground can hinder the seed from bearing fruit?  If our hearing is good, we lay that to heart.  We cooperate with the Divine Farmer, seeking His help to make sure our hearts are good ground with deep, fertile soil where nothing is growing but the Good Seed He planted.  In this kind of ground the seed will surely bring forth… an hundredfold.

And, as we see in what Jesus says next, our work in done when we present to the Lord this kind of soil.  The rest is up to Him—and to the Law of life in the seed He plants.  After exhorting His disciples to make sure they are hearing what He is saying, Jesus continues with this:

So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground;
And should sleep, and rise night and day,
And the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how.
For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear (Mk. 4.26-28).

The emphasis in the original is, “How, he knoweth not.”  There is a mysterious process of life at work in the seed—the same process we mentioned in an earlier blog.

As thou knowest not what is the way of the wind, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child, even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all (Eccles. 11.5).

In the natural creation, it’s life that causes the child in the womb to grow.  It’s life that causes the seed to grow and bear fruit.  These are the inner workings of a law of life God set to work in nature when He created all things.

And God created all these things with this in mind:  their voice speaks to us of the wonder and beauty of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus in His parables drawn from nature is speaking of the Kingdom of God.  It is “the word of the Kingdom” that the sower sows, and, depending on the soil conditions, brings forth fruit.  And so, as we said, we have a part to play there.  He that hath an ear, let him hear.  We can seek to be good deep soil, and keep out the weeds.

But once the conditions are right, our job is done.  It’s no use the farmer standing anxiously over the ground as if so doing could help the seed along.  “The earth bringeth forth fruit of herself.”

This word in the Greek is automate (pronounced automatay).  Sound familiar?  I’m not much of a Greek scholar, but even I could tell what that word likely meant.  Here’s what a real Greek scholar (Kenneth Wuest) has to say about it.

The words of herself are the translation of automate which is made up of autos (self) and memaa (to desire eagerly).  The word means in its totality, “self-moved, spontaneously, without external aid, and also beyond external control, with a way and a will, so to speak, of its own that must be respected and waited for.”  We get our English word automatic from this Greek word automate.  There is only one other example of its use in the New Testament, where the gate opens to Peter of its own accord (Acts 12.10).  The earth, therefore, brings forth fruit automatically.  The nature of the soil, the weather, and the cultivation of the plant, all enter in.  But the secret of the growth is in the seed itself.

This is very encouraging to us, isn’t it.  The farmer doesn’t stand anxiously over the seed he planted.  He isn’t wringing his hands as to what will happen next.  He doesn’t stay up all night worrying.  He just goes about his daily routine, sleeping, rising, sleeping, rising… and… what’s this?  The ground that received the seed is bringing forth now!  The seed has yielded to a law of life that meant it first had to die… and now it is growing, growing, growing… “first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.”

So with the Kingdom of God that is growing in the earth right now, and in due time will be openly manifested.  There is a beautiful mystery at work that the hand of man has no part in—the mystery of the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, which is at work in those who believe.  We need to respect that working, and wait patiently for the results.  Something spontaneous–automatic– is happening while we wait, something that is working of its own accord as we rest in the Lord.  Having kept out the weeds, we only need to yield to the seed that has been sown, trusting the Law of the Spirit of life to bring forth the seed that was planted in abundant fruitfulness… to the praise and glory of God.

How’s Your Hearing?

Jesus has entered a boat and is speaking to the multitudes on the shore.  He speaks to them a parable about a sower who sows seed on various types of ground.  It’s all the same seed, nevertheless the ground it is sown in brings forth different results.

Some seed falls by the roadside where the ground is packed so hard it can’t even get in, and immediately the birds come and peck it all up.

Some seed falls on thin soil with rock underneath, and although it springs up quickly, when the sun gets hot it just as quickly dies because it isn’t deeply rooted.

Some falls on ground that looks good but is infested with the seeds of thorns, and when the thorns grow up, the plants growing from the good seed are choked out.

And some of the seed falls on fertile ground that yields fruit (I like that word yield here) “some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred” (Mk. 4.8).

At the end of the parable Jesus says to the multitude, “He that hath ears let him hear” (Mk. 4.9).

Luke has this more dramatically, telling us that Jesus cried out this warning.

And when he had said these things He cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Lk. 8.8).

In other words, let no one underestimate the eternal importance of what He has been saying!

After speaking this and other parables to the multitude, Jesus goes aside with his disciples and explains the parable.  He didn’t do this with the great multitude, at this point already realizing that most of them weren’t all that interested in what He had to say; they followed Him just for the signs and wonders and miracles.  Others were openly against Him, and followed along looking only for an opportunity to find fault.  But now he explains the parable to the disciples.  He has been talking of hearing the word, likening the hearers of the word to various types of ground.  We won’t enlarge on this here except to say that God intends the seed of the word in our lives—the word of the Kingdom of God—to bear abundant fruit, and depending on the condition of our heart this may or may not happen.  Hardness of heart, persecution, the cares of this life, the deceitfulness of riches… all these and the lusts of other things can cause a crop failure.  But the good and honest heart that endures to the end will bring forth the fruit God is looking for.

What we want to emphasize here is that the Lord rephrases to the disciples His earlier exhortation to the multitude.  After He has explained the parable to His disciples He directs these words to them:

If any man have ears to hear, let him hear (Mk. 4.23).

This is phrased a little differently than the first exhortation, and the thought seems to be that Jesus recognizes that, unlike many of those who were stone deaf to what He had been saying, His disciples have ears to hear.  The more accurate translation of this second exhortation is, “Since a person has ears to be hearing, let him be hearing” (Wuest Expanded Translation).  You mean, Lord, your disciples actually have ears to hear, and you still admonish them?

It’s a profound warning for us, then.  It’s possible to have ears—even to think we are hearing—and yet not be hearing very well.

Christ continues by saying:

Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given.
For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.

Christian, let us guard against dullness of hearing.  Hearing… yet not really hearing.  Hearing… yet it doesn’t really register because we are going about our lives in this world, and, with all the things that cry for our attention, the ear that was once attentive is no longer hearing the way it used to.

Or, perhaps unknowingly we have become presumptuous, over-familiar with spiritual things.  It’s something that can creep in so easily on the heart.  We hear and presume these spiritual words to be ours because of some special group or move we have been involved in, or some great church we go to.

Or, apart from any group or church we are involved in, we have given the inherent pride of our own heart lots of water and sunshine, and we are now oblivious to our deep and continual need to walk in humility and “tremble at His word.”  And so now the seed of the word falls on our ear… and we heard it as usual, but actually nothing happened.  We have ears, but we are not really hearing.  We have lost what young Samuel had when he responded trembling, “Speak, Lord, for your servant heareth.”

In other words, the Lord had Samuel’s full attention.

The Lord Jesus Christ says that with what measure we give our ears to hear Him, in this measure what He is saying shall be measured out to us.  If we give our ears but a little, that’s what is given to us in return—little.  If our hearing is dull, we won’t get much.  If our ears are keen, are sensitive, we will hear more—in fact shall be given more than we anticipated.

…Unto you that hear shall more be given.

Is it possible then, that the Lord has spoken, and, although we heard the words, and got a little, there was more we could have heard?  Apparently.  The Lord says that it is to those who have ears and actually hear, that it shall be given.

For he that hath, to him shall be given.

And then the solemn final warning.

And he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.

I don’t want to be in that category of the listener who the Lord says has ears but is actually going about his life not hearing what He is saying at all.  And suddenly I discover that what I thought I had… actually I did not have it, and it is taken from me completely now.

God’s Answer For The Famine Of The Word

We have been talking about the famine of hearing of the words of the Lord—words that the Lord Himself speaks, and therefore are living words that sustain us and give us the strength we need for our daily walk in this world.

That’s what bread is for—to strengthen man’s heart (Ps. 104.15).  And we need this daily.  It’s simply impossible to go through the day and meet its demands without the strength of the bread of life.  I know, as long as things are going okay and we are prospering nicely, it seems we can get along without this living Bread.  But the hour is at hand when many people—even many Christians—will suddenly see that their spiritual plates are empty, in fact have been empty for a long time.

Jesus Christ is Himself the bread of life.

I am the bread of life: he that cometh to Me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on my shall never thirst (Jn. 6.25).

Jesus is not speaking here of a one-time thing—when I came to Him and was converted.  He is speaking of a continual coming to Him, and in doing so, discovering an unfailing supply for my daily need whatever that need is.  His promise is that “as are thy days so shall thy strength be” (Dt. 33.25).  In other words, there cannot be a day that proves too much to handle when we come to Him for the bread we need for this day.  This is the experience of many Christians who take their need for the living Bread seriously and come to Him expectantly day by day.

But let’s look at this in larger terms than the twenty-four hour day.  For we are now entering upon a very difficult day, and it is going to require great spiritual strength to get through it.

What provision does God have for this day now dawning?  Apart from a major spiritual revolution we face grievous spiritual famine in our western lands in spite of all the Bibles and Bible studies and Internet resources and weekly sermons by our favourite pastor.  All this, good as it is, was never meant to be the answer for the needs of the world around us.  What is God’s answer then?  Yes I know, Christ Himself.

For the bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven and giveth life unto the world (Jn. 6.33).

I am the living bread which came down from Heaven: if any man eat of this bread he shall live forever: and the bread which I shall give is my flesh which I shall give for the life of the world (Jn. 6.51).

His flesh?  This caused a strife among those listening.  “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”

Even His own disciples found this hard to comprehend.  They couldn’t imagine themselves eating His flesh.  Jesus answered their perplexity with another perplexity.

Doth this offend you?  What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where He was before?  It is the Spirit that quickeneth (that giveth life): the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are Spirit, and they are life (Jn. 6.62,63).

In other words, it wasn’t eating His physical body that Jesus had in mind.  “It is the Spirit that quickeneth.”  He would ascend into Heaven and by the Holy Spirit speak living words from Heaven, words which to partake of would be one and the same as eating His flesh and drinking His blood.

But there is something else here—a very important implication in Jesus’ statement that “it is the Spirit that quickeneth.”  In sending the Holy Spirit, Christ means you and I, ordinary Christians in the body of Christ, to become His very flesh, the bread that He gives for the life of the world.

For we being many are one bread (or, loaf) and one body; for we are all partakers of that One Bread (1 Cor. 10.12).

Partaking of this One Bread causes us ourselves to become vitally a part of that One Bread.  For, as the saying goes, you are what you eat.

And how is this accomplished—that we become this one loaf and one body?

For by one Spirit are ye all baptized into one body… (1 Cor. 12.13).

This is the implication of His words, “It is the Spirit that quickeneth…”  He is talking of the sending of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, by which, wonder of wonders, we are made one with Him who is in Heaven– are made one Loaf with Him, one Body.

Fellow Christian, we must be earnestly seeking this kind of intermingling and interaction with the Spirit of Christ—something that produces an entirely different kind of church, one in which every single member is a vital participant in the Bread of Life, and there is a very real sense of all having become One Loaf with Christ Himself.

And those in leadership must seek earnestly to give the Spirit of the Lord His liberty and lordship so He can bring this One Loaf into being– His answer for the spiritual hunger of the world.

We have many good pastors and teachers these days who can deliver a good word.  We are thankful for them.  We have many great ministries who through modern media feed multitudes of Christians all the world over with powerful messages. We are thankful for these as well, for they certainly meet a need.

But this will not meet the need of the day at hand.  God has something greater in mind.  In fact even now—can we not recognize this?—we are in a state of famine.  Is not this abundantly clear when we look at the needs of our world around us, first on the local level and then out further?  With all our present provision we are still in a state of famine.

And we will be in a state of famine until this One Loaf begins to appear.

It is this Loaf—the body of Christ—that the Lord has in mind for the day at hand, and is even now preparing.  It is this Loaf that He breaks in His hands to feed every need of the hungry.

This is the Bread that Christ gives for the life of the world.

This is the Loaf that finally brings to an end the famine of the words of the Lord.

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?