BY JORDAN MAYER
“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”
This past Sunday, several members of our church community got up to speak the words of Jesus in Scripture. It was truly a profound experience. As I listened, I had two thoughts come into my mind.
First, I was reminded of Scripture’s power, especially the power of it spoken aloud.
I think of Jesus during His temptation in the desert. As Satan attacks Him with his lies, Jesus responds with God’s Word. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 3:4). “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matthew 3:7). “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matthew 3:10).
In Ephesians 6, Paul outlines the various elements of a Christian’s armor. We are clad in the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the readiness of the Gospel of peace, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation. But notice, only one offensive weapon is given. It is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17).
The Word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12). It trains us in righteousness and equips us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path (Psalm 119:105). It does not return void, but accomplishes its purpose (Isaiah 55:11).
This was the same Word spoken on Sunday. Think about that. The very words of God Almighty were heard aloud in that room. And they are there before us each time we open our Bible.
As I sat there, still and quiet, hearing God’s Word spoken, I also felt convicted. How often do I just bask in the light of God’s truth? How often do I simply sit under the weight of Scripture?
I find I am sometimes too quick to pick up a devotional or page through a commentary. Do not misunderstand me, devotionals, commentaries, and various Christian books are all wonderful resources. We are truly blessed by the abundance of Christ-exalting, biblically based literature available to us. But I have found, in my own life, a hidden danger of making these supplementary resources the default and primary focus of my quiet time.
If I am being completely honest with myself, the root is often one of laziness. As I hit a roadblock with a particular passage, how tempting it is to just reach for the commentary to ease my frustrations or to abandon the effort altogether with a straightforward, perfectly packaged daily devotional.
Simply put, Scripture can be downright hard to read. But Paul actually goes a step further. In our own strength and apart from the Holy Spirit, Scripture is actually impossible to read, in the sense of being able to truly understand and apply it. Listen to what Paul says to the Corinthians:
“These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” (1 Corinthians 2:10-13)
No one can know the thoughts of God other than the Spirit of God. And it is the Spirit of God that has been given to us when we believe upon Christ as our Lord and Savior.
We can carve out the time in our schedule, find a quiet place to read, and open the pages of our Bible, but what happens next does not rest in our own abilities. It is solely a work of the Spirit to know the thoughts of God. Praise God for the Spirit’s help!
As John Piper puts it, “One of the greatest privileges of having two good eyes is that we can read God’s word. But there is another set of eyes that have to be opened if the glory of God’s word is to shine in our hearts — namely, the eyes of our hearts” (John Piper, The Shepherd, the Host, and the Highway Patrol).
So, we have set aside a time to read. We have found a solitary place. We grip the sword of the Spirit tightly in our hands. Here lies a critical moment, a crossroads of sorts. In many ways, reading God’s Word is an act of faith. Will we pursue God’s Word in our own strength, by the power of our own reasoning and mental faculties? Or, will we submit our minds and surrender our will to the power of the Spirit?
Often, my defeats in my quiet time are linked to my failure to properly prepare, namely to pray for the Spirit’s guidance in helping me understand God’s truth. So now I pray.
Lord, open my eyes to behold wondrous things from your law (Psalm 119:18). Teach me wisdom in the secret heart (Psalm 51:6). Do not let me go from this place without being changed and transformed by your truth, renewed in my mind and thinking. Not my will, but your will be done in this time. Lord, I trust you, by your Spirit inside me, to reveal what it is you want me to see in your Word. For it is you who gives wisdom, and it is from your mouth that true knowledge and understanding come (Proverbs 2:6).
BY JORDAN MAYER
“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”
(2 Peter 1:16)
When I travel for work, I like to find new places to eat. Scratch that. I like to find good new places to eat. This can be a challenge as there is never a shortage of mediocre restaurants. But I have found that one of the best strategies for finding good food is to ask a local. Usually, the places they offer up are small, hole-in-the-wall joints. Most do not look like much from the outside. There is no flashy website or giant billboard advertisement. But inside, you find friendly staff and an authentic menu that tastes like a good, home-cooked meal.
You see, these kinds of restaurants do not need to rely on elaborate marketing campaigns or expensive advertising. They simply build a loyal customer base that freely, and often passionately, shares their experience with friends, family, co-workers, and even strangers on the street. Any marketing guru will tell you that word-of-mouth remains a lucrative and powerful strategy for business. It is free advertising built on the personal and positive experiences of loyal customers.
In a similar vain, the message of the Gospel has been entrusted to the followers of God. It is to those who believe that God commands to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19).
In Peter’s second letter to the churches, he recalls the manner in which this Gospel was preached. It was not a carefully crafted tale, a polished script, or a fanciful myth. It was simply the honest testimony of men, led by the Holy Spirit, who spoke of what they saw.
To craft a convincing story, one will usually employ the most convincing witnesses. But rather than reveal himself to an impressive circle of religious or political elites, Jesus surrounded himself with fishermen, tax collectors, and sinners. It was women who were the first heralds of His resurrection, even though a woman’s word was given little weight in their society. If the truth and message of the Gospel was merely a cleverly devised myth, it did not employ, by worldly standards, very convincing messengers or witnesses. But so the Bible teaches that God uses what is foolish and weak according to the world to reveal the powerful work of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:26).
The apostle Paul makes similar remarks in his letter to the Corinthians. Paul was no great orator. In fact, he was not very impressive at all. He did not speak with fanciful words or illustrations, but simply preached the crucified Christ. For the Gospel rests not in the power of its messengers, but in the message itself. Paul writes the following:
"For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." (1 Corinthians 2:2-5)
This should encourage us in our own efforts to share the Gospel. We need not worry ourselves with sounding impressive or using the right words. We can't save anyone; we merely point them to the One who can. But we are promised that God will supply us the right words at the right time (Luke 12:12). We also don't know where people are in their faith journey. Perhaps you are preparing the soil, or planting the seed, or watering the ground. But it is God that provides the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). For the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).
Peter also reminds us that Scripture is our greatest authority, the ultimate source of truth, and the primary witness to the power of the Lord Jesus Christ. The testimony of men is important, but the testimony of God is greater.
There were many false teachers in Peter’s time that sprouted up within the church. They secretly and sneakily planted destructive seeds of heresy, motivated by greed. They denied the return of Christ and promoted a false freedom in practicing sin. They too testified, but they were testifying of that which is false.
In the midst of lies, Scripture stands as truth, the absolute Truth . For it is like a lamp shining in a dark place. Wherever it shines, the light makes clear what is true and what is false. On its own, the testimony of men is a fickle source for truth ,as it can be so easily swayed and twisted. And yet, grounded in the truth of Scripture, our testimony can point others to the glory and majesty of Christ.
Think of Peter and the wondrous things he beheld on that mountain. Think of your own life and the wondrous things you have seen God do. We are all a living testimony to the truth of the Gospel and the power of Christ.
And we can join in with the Psalmist in saying, “Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul.” (Psalm 66:16
BY JORDAN MAYER
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."
Have you ever picked up stones along the beach or riverbed? As you turn one over in your hands, you'll find the surface remarkably smooth and rounded. Though a small child might think it a special kind of rock, it is merely a product of the environment it has been exposed to. Over the course of days, months, and years; the water and tiny sediment slowly wear away the rough surfaces and sharp edges. By a nearly imperceptible process, the stone is shaped and molded until it looks and feels like all the others.
Though we might not realize it, our minds face similar pressures. Like the winding channels that are formed by flowing water, ideas can take root in our minds to form thought patterns, behaviors, and habits. This is what Paul alludes to in his letter to the believers in Rome. There is a danger for followers of Christ to be inwardly changed, yet outwardly indistinguishable from the world around them.
The danger is not so much overt, but convert. We may be wise to a sudden bold attack, but less likely to notice a slow and methodical advance.
Jesus warns of false prophets who would appear as wolves in sheep's clothing (Matthew 7:15). Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), even quoting Scripture in his efforts to tempt Jesus (Matthew 4:6). And Paul warns the Colossians of false teaching that has the appearance of wisdom (Colossians 2:20-23).
Though the root of the issue was as relevant in Paul's day as it is today, the results of modern technology ensure constant and immediate access to myriads of voices vying for our attention. From the TV screen in our living room, the computer in our lap, or the phone in our pocket, there is a near endless supply of messages eager to broadcast into our lives.
But we need not resign ourselves to a life of conformance and compromise. And yet, our minds cannot operate in a void. To remove one thing requires another to fill its place. In emptying ourselves of worldly wisdom, we must fill up on the wisdom from above, namely God's Word. If we want any hope of combating the corrupting influence of counterfeit truths, we must look to the genuine article.
So what are we filling our minds with on the daily? Do we suppose that a brief exposure to the Word on Sunday’s is enough for the spiritual warfare of the week? Are we sometimes naive in thinking that a small dose of God's Truth is all it takes to withstand the onslaught of lies and mistruths to which we are exposed? Does only a little Scripture a day keep sin and the devil away?
But the issue lies in the framing of the question. It is not a question of how little of God's Word we need, but rather how much. We are to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16). We must meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1:2). We must store it up in our heart (Psalm 119:11). Like food for our body, Scripture is the sustenance of our soul. We need it daily, consistently, and constantly.
And we must remember that His Word is living and active. It discerns the thought and intentions of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12) in order that we may discern His. As we take it in and meditate upon it, through the power of the Holy Spirit, it will begin to work in our hearts and in our minds, transforming and renewing them in the knowledge of truth. The more we read, the more we take on the mind of Christ.
Today, this week, this month, and this year; let us all endeavor to plumb the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God (Romans 11:33).
BY JORDAN MAYER
"And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, 'Let me go, for the day has broken.' But Jacob said, 'I will not let you go unless you bless me.' And he said to him, 'What is your name?' And he said, 'Jacob.' Then he said, 'Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.' Then Jacob asked him, 'Please tell me your name.' But he said, 'Why is it that you ask my name?' And there he blessed him."
Two and a half years ago, I moved into a role at work that, frankly, I was ill-equipped for. I had no prior experience or background to draw from as I stepped out into the unknown. What I didn’t realize at the time was how It would reveal my own desire for control, my deep-rooted need to cover all the angles and have a clear path forward. In many ways, that aspect of my life was one I walked mainly by sight and not by faith. Through reading Scripture, I have found there is much to be gleaned from those who have faced similar struggles, but have experienced God showing up in mighty ways.
Following the Great Flood, Scripture zeroes in on a particular man named Abraham. God speaks to Abraham and provides a series of blessings that would not only bless Abraham and his family, but all the nations through him (Genesis 12:1-3). As the story continues, God’s blessing is passed on to the successive generation, beginning with Abraham’s miracle son, Isaac. Later on, we are introduced to Isaac’s two sons, Jacob and Esau.
These two men could not have been more different. Esau was a man’s man, literally coming out of the womb like a hairy cloak. He was a skilled hunter and a man of the field. Jacob was...less impressive. He was a quiet man and preferred to hang around the tents. If Esau was the muscular, high school football star, Jacob was the scrawny kid with his nose in a book. But while Jacob might not beat Esau in a wrestling match, he could certainly beat him in a battle of wits. The name Jacob means "he takes by the heel", but it carries the connotation of "cheater" or “deceiver”. He certainly lives up to this title.
On one fateful day, Jacob finds his chance to elevate his position. Exhausted and hungry from a long day in the field, Esau comes in and begs his brother for a bowl of stew. Jacob, seizing his opportunity, proposes a trade: his stew for Esau’s birthright. I’m not sure which is more shocking, Esau’s flippancy toward his birthright or Jacob’s cunning in trying to take it. But take it he does, after making Esau swear by an oath.
Jacob wouldn’t stop there. Time and again, Jacob would resort to a variety of schemes and deceptions to get what he wanted, even tricking his own father to procure his blessing. In his wake, he leaves a series of broken relationships with his brother, father, and uncle.
Yet, such as life, the check comes due. Upon freeing himself from his uncle’s tricks, Jacob is ready to return to his land. But what awaits him is a brother he wronged some twenty years prior. As Jacob’s entourage approaches, Esau receives word and goes out to meet him…accompanied by 400 men!
Jacob is justifiably fearful of his brother’s intentions. But in typical Jacob fashion, he dreams up another scheme that might deliver him out of another sticky situation. He sends an elaborate train of gifts on ahead in the hopes that it might appease his scorned brother.
But in the midst of his scheming, we begin to see a shift in Jacob. Recognizing the desperate nature of his circumstances, he offers a humble prayer to God for deliverance. Little did he know what God had in store for him.
That night, with his confidence shaken and filled with fear and dread, Jacob has a strange encounter with a man. This man, as he would learn, was none other than God himself. As the hours pass, the two become locked in a wrestling match. But it appears to be a stalemate. With the light of the dawn and Jacob refusing to yield, God makes the first move to end the match. He delivers a painful blow to Jacob’s hip.
But as the pain radiates from his dislocated hip and his muscles ache and strain against his heavenly opponent, Jacob still refuses to let go. He yearns for God’s blessing. He has nothing left to hold onto, so he holds onto God.
Weak, wounded, and now walking with a limp, Jacob comes out a changed man. He is transformed.
Firstly, God gives Jacob a new name. No longer is he “deceiver”, he is now called Israel. He has spent his life struggling with men, but now he has striven with God. For all of Jacob’s faults, he was persistent, yet not always persistent in the right things.
Captured by awe, Jacob calls the place, “Peniel” (face of God). He knows full well that it was not a fair fight. God could have easily struck him dead yet chose not to.
Jacob’s awe over his encounter with God finds similar footing in his encounter with Esau. Jacob had cheated Esau out of everything and yet, here stands his brother with tears in his eyes, running to embrace him. Jacob expects condemnation, but instead finds reconciliation.
In describing all that he has to Esau, Jacob credits it to the God who has dealt graciously with him (Genesis 32:11).
When the two brothers part ways, Jacob (now Israel) erects an altar which he names “El-Elohe-Israel”, or “God, the God of Israel”. No longer was God merely the God of his fathers, He is Israel’s God.
Jacob's faith was by no means perfect, either before or after these divine encounters. But these experiences served to grow his faith in ways it could not have otherwise. Jacob had lived a life full of schemes and deceptions, relying primarily on his own wits to obtain what he wanted. But in the end, his transformation came in recognizing what God had already provided. He didn't have to fight for God's blessing, He was blessed.
Do you feel stuck in the patterns or circumstances of your life? Are you having trouble surrendering control? Remember that we have a Heavenly Father who loves us, one who is never afraid to do what is required for the good of His children (Hebrews 12:6-7). Sometimes that means wrestling us to the ground in order for us to realize that He has always been with us and for us (Deuteronomy 31:8), that He has already blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3).
As the saying goes, it is in coming to the end of ourselves that we find a new beginning with God. This is true when we first step over that line of faith and equally true in our daily surrendering and submitting to His good and perfect will. There is blessing in the wrestling because our wrestling can lead us to God. Jacob may have gotten a bum hip, but he limped with a stronger faith. So too can we.