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In the previous session I spoke about various different effects that the word of God is designed to produce in us who believe it. I want to return briefly to two because they’re related and I want to use them to illustrate one another. I spoke, first of all, that faith comes by the hearing of God’s word. That’s a wonderful truth, we can never over-emphasize it. If you don’t have faith you don’t need to stay without faith because faith comes, it comes by the hearing of the word of God.
And then at the end of the previous session I explained how God’s word is intended to provide health or medicine for all our physical body. I illustrated it briefly from my own experience but only very briefly. The passage that we looked at in Proverbs 4, I’d like to return there for a moment because it’s a perfect illustration of what hearing is. So if you’re wondering what it means to hear God’s word I can illustrate it for you and base it on my personal experience from Proverbs 4. While I was there in the hospital and I discovered these verses and I saw that they offered me health or medicine, I said to myself that’s what I’m going to do. I’m grateful for what the doctors have done but they’ve not been able to provide healing so I’m going to take God’s word as my medicine. When I said that I had the impression that God spoke to me inaudibly but very clearly. And He said when the doctor gives a person medicine, the instructions for taking it are on the bottle. Then He said this is my medicine bottle and the instructions are on it, you better read them. So I turned back and I saw that there are four instructions for taking God’s word as medicine. You see, if a doctor gives you medicine in the natural but you don’t take it according to the directions, the doctor will say you couldn’t expect it to do you any good. So if you have this passage in front of you or if you will listen, I’ll give you the four directions for taking God’s word as medicine. And there’s probably not a single person here who won’t need these directions at some time in your life. Very few of us live a full length of life without some encounter with sickness. So, store this up and have it ready when the situation arises. Here are the four directions.
Number one, give attention to my words.
Number two, incline your ear to my sayings.
Number three, do not let them depart from your eyes.
And number four, keep them in the midst of your heart.
Let’s consider just briefly what’s involved in those four directions. First of all, give attention. When you turn to the Bible and to the word of God you need to give it your total undivided attention. Don’t be distracted, try to shut yourself off from all other voices or influences or impressions. Give undivided attention to the word of God. After all, it’s God speaking to you, it’s worthwhile listening to what He has to say.
The second instruction is incline your ear or bow down your ear. And that is an attitude of humility. As a matter of fact, my mind is on Africa because I’ve been quoting this. But in an African primary or intermediate school, if a pupil comes up to the teacher with his exercise book he will stand in front of the teacher with the book open and bow his head, incline his ear. In other words, he’s saying you’re the teacher, I’m the pupil. Understand? So that attitude of inclining your ear means I want you to teach me, I’m willing to be taught, I need to learn.
See, I myself had this problem because my impression of Christianity from way back was that if you were going to be a Christian you should expect to be pretty miserable most of your life. My attitude was I’m not sure that it’s worth being miserable for that. And I carried this attitude over even after I was born again. So as I studied the Bible it seemed to be saying to me all the time God wants you healthy, He wants you strong, He wants you successful. And I kept saying to myself that’s too good to be true, that couldn’t be what the Bible means. It must mean something different. So while I was reasoning like that with myself once again the Lord spoke to me inaudibly and He said now, who is the teacher and who is the pupil? I said Lord, you’re the teacher and I’m the pupil. And then He said would you mind letting me teach you? And you see, I realized I wasn’t inclining my ear. I wasn’t prepared to listen. I had my own preconceptions as to what I thought God would be saying. And, if He was saying something different I couldn’t hear it.
Now, for those who have no Christian background, you may not have that problem. In many ways you start with an advantage, you start with an open mind. But for those of us, and that’s many of us here, who have some kind of background in Christianity, we’ve probably inherited quite a number of traditions and preconceptions which are not in line with the Bible. And it’s often very hard for us to hear what God is saying because He’s saying something different from what we expected Him to say. So the solution for that is incline your ear, bow down your head, be humble, be teachable.
I’ve been a teacher in various circumstances. I know it’s impossible to teach people who don’t want to be taught. You can do all the motions, you can go through all the lectures but there’s on result. So there has to be a desire to be taught, an attitude of being teachable.
The third direction is do not let them depart from your eyes. And that, I think, means focus. Focus on the word of God. Don’t look partly at the Bible and partly at other things because they may contradict what the Bible says. It’s all really, in a sense, all of this means shutting yourself in with what God is saying to you through the Bible. Don’t be distracted, don’t let any other influence turn you away from what God is saying.
In the teaching profession—and I’m sure some of you are teachers—we used to teach the primary school, teaching students, that there are two main gates to the child’s attention. The ear gate and the eye gate. And good teaching uses both. That’s why a video in some ways is more effective than audio, you understand? Because it used the eye gate as well as the ear gate. Well you see, God was ahead of the teaching psychologists by about 3,000 years because God says the ear gate and the eye gate.
And then the end result is keep them in the midst of your heart. The purpose of all these instructions is to get God’s word into your heart, the very center of human personality.
The next verse of Proverbs, verse 23, says:
“Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.”
In other words, what is in your heart will determine the course of your life. So guard your heart.
I remember one of the African languages of my students said guard your heart with all your strength, for everything in life comes out of it. I cannot overemphasize that. For each of you here, what is in your heart will ultimately determine the course of your life. You cannot have the wrong thing in your heart and live right. And you cannot have the right thing in your heart and live wrong. Because, the heart is the source of all life that we lead. And the purpose of these instructions is to show you how you can get God’s word into your heart through the ear gate, through the eye gate, through focused attention, through humility, through being teachable.
And when you’ve put all that together, that is hearing. That’s how faith comes. Whether it’s sickness that you’re dealing with or some other problem, if you need faith this passage in Proverbs 4 describes how you can get faith.
All right, we’ll go on to some other effects of God’s word quite briefly. The next one is victory over sin. And in Psalm 119:11 David says to the Lord:
“Your word I have hidden in my heart that I might not sin against you.”
Now when David says hidden, another modern translation says treasured or stored up as treasure. So David says I have stored up your word as treasure in my heart, in the very center of my being. You notice again how important the heart is? If you store God’s word in your heart it’s going to direct the course of your life. And so he says I don’t want to sin; my protection against sin is storing your word in my heart.
Somebody said either sin will keep you from the Bible or the Bible will keep you from sin. Sooner or later one or other will win. If the Bible wins out it’ll keep you from sin.
In Psalm 17:4 we have another testimony of David. David was a man who was very honest. You can read his psalms and see he had a lot of struggles with sin in his own life. But thank God that through his struggles he’s able to give us direction and help us. Psalm 17:4:
“Concerning the works of men, by the word of your lips, I have kept myself from the paths of the destroyer.”
The destroyer is a title of Satan. So Satan has paths that he would like to entice you down because they lead to destruction. And some of them have got very misleading signposts. They say success, happiness, popularity. And you think I’m going to follow that path. But, it’s a path that doesn’t lead to what it claims because the devil put the signpost there. And in order to keep from following these paths that will lead you astray and bring you to destruction, you have to heed the word of God. That’s the thing that warns you, that alerts you, that directs you, that points out the snares and dangers.
In Psalm 119, going back there for a moment, verse 9, just two verses earlier the psalmist says:
“How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to your word.”
That is a real problem for young people. It’s not only for young people but specifically for a certain age in life. Again, I think of being in Africa. Basically the attitude of Africans was it isn’t possible for a young man or a young woman to lead a pure life. It’s not natural. And we had to fight that with the word of God. And David asks the question how can a young person lead a pure life? It’s a very real question, isn’t it? I mean, nobody would pretend it’s altogether easy but David said by taking heed to it according to your word. Again, either God’s word will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from God’s word. If you find that you’re beginning to be less interested in the Bible, you better check on what’s taking the place of the Bible in your life because it could be something disastrous.
Then the Bible not only gives victory over sin but it gives victory over Satan. That’s very, very important. Satan is the enemy of all believers. He’s continually opposing us, seeking to lead us astray, take us into temptation. But he doesn’t have to win. We can defeat him. We have a weapon and it’s the word of God. In Ephesians 6 Paul is talking about a Christian’s honor and he points out we are all in a war, a spiritual war, not a physical war. We’re not fighting flesh and blood. The Living Bible says we’re not fighting persons with bodies but we’re fighting spiritual beings and spiritual forces. Because it’s a spiritual war we have to have spiritual weapons. And Paul lists our spiritual weapons in Ephesians 6 but I only want to focus on the last one in verse 17. It says:
“Take the helmet of salvation...”
That’s what protects your head. And let me just interject that that is hope. 1 Thessalonians 5:8 says the helmet of hope. I didn’t intend to speak on this but I think God wants me to because so many people have a problem with depression. I’m not doing it but if I were to ask how many of you here this evening have struggled with depression, with dark moods, with pessimism, many of you would raise your hands. I’d be the first. I had a tremendous struggle with depression in the early years of my ministry. I was saved, baptized in the Spirit and was winning people for the Lord. But, this dark cloud would settle over me, shut me in and press me down. And I struggled with it, I fought with it, I did everything I knew and nothing worked. In fact, the harder I tried the worse it got. And I was at the point of real despair when I happened to read in the prophet Isaiah, chapter 61, verse 3 that God said He would give us the garment of praise in place of the spirit of heaviness. That’s the Old King James Version. And when I read those words the Holy Spirit said to me that’s your problem. It’s a spirit, an evil spirit that’s tormenting you. It’s not you, it’s not your mind, it’s another person at work in your mind.
Well, I then needed only one other scripture which was Joel 2:32:
“It shall come to pass that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered.”
So I prayed and I said to God, “God, deliver me from this evil spirit of heaviness, of depression, in the name of Jesus.” And God delivered me. Then God showed me that I had to have something to protect my mind with. And I thought about the armor and I said it must be the helmet. Well, Ephesians 6:17 calls it the helmet of salvation. I thought to myself I’m saved, do I have the helmet of salvation? But Paul says to saved Christians take the helmet of salvation. And I didn’t know what that was but I looked in a parallel passage in 1 Thessalonians 5:8 which says:
“For a helmet the hope of salvation.”
So I said to myself my helmet is hope. That’s what will protect my mind. And then I studied and I saw that in the Bible hope is a confident expectation of good. And God showed me I had to change my whole pattern of thinking. I was by nature a pessimist. In fact, apart from being born a pessimist I was brought up to be a pessimist. In my family if you weren’t worrying you ought to be worrying about the fact you weren’t worrying! So I realized I had a whole background to change. I had to put on a helmet of hope, an expectation of good.
The way I did it was every time I got a dark, negative thought I deliberately replaced it with something from scripture that was positive. And gradually it became automatic. So today, thank God I don’t have that problem. I mean all of us can be attacked sometimes with negative thoughts but as a whole, depression is not my problem. It’s a thing of the past. So I had to be delivered from the spirit, then I had to learn to protect my mind. I didn’t intend to say this but probably it’s for the sake of people here. There is a helmet. It’s hope. If you study the Bible as a Christian there is no reason ever not to have hope. There’s always a scriptural reason to have hope but you have to find the reasons and apply them.
I want to go on to the next statement, the one I was headed for:
“...take the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God...”
So that’s our weapon of attack against Satan, it’s the word of God. Some of you have probably heard because there’s a lot of teaching about this today that there are two different Greek words for word. There’s logos and there’s rhema. Logos is the total word of God, the whole counsel of God, the eternal God, the word of God. Rhema is the spoken word of God. And the word used here is rhema. Take the sword of the Spirit which is the rhema word of God. In other words, it’s not the Bible beside your bed or in your bookshelf that will protect you, it’s the Bible where you speak it out in faith and quote it. That’s the sword of the Spirit and that’s so sharp that every time you do that to the devil he backs off. He’s afraid of the sword of the Spirit.
And our perfect pattern for this is Jesus. In Matthew 4 when Satan came to tempt Him, how did Jesus answer? Three times He said what? It is written. What’s that? That’s the sword of the Spirit. And Satan left him. He has no answer to the sword of the Spirit. You can give him all sorts of psychological reasons and he’s not impressed. But when you simply quote the scripture and apply it personally you can drive him from you.
So, the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, is our weapon against Satan. Let me give you just two other passages. 1 John 2:14, the second part of the verse, John says:
“...I have written to you, young men, because you are strong and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.”
Who is the wicked one? Satan. John makes three statements about those young people. They’re strong, they’ve overcome Satan, and the reason is the third statement, the word of God abides in you. If you have the word of God abiding in you it will give you spiritual strength and victory over Satan.
In Revelation 12:11 we have an example of this. It’s a picture, I believe, of the end time tremendous conflict between the people of God and the people of Satan. And the devil himself is personally involved. But verse 11 of Revelation 12 gives us the key to victory. It says:
“They [the people of God] overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.”
So how do we overcome Satan? By the blood of the Lamb, by the word of our testimony.
Now I have a way to explain this which I’ve explained to thousands of people. I tell people if you could pay me there’s no money that would express the value. But, I’m not asking for payment, you understand. This truth is priceless. How do we overcome Satan by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony? This is my explanation. We overcome Satan when we testify personally to what the word of God says the blood of Jesus does for us. Let me say that again. We overcome Satan when we testify personally to what the word of God says that the blood of Jesus does for us. You understand, the key to that is knowing what the word of God says. Then it’s making it personal, applying it in your own life.
Ruth and I have a form of testimony that we regularly use that applies these scriptures. So rather than preach it we’ll demonstrate it. Okay?
“My body is a temple for the Holy Spirit; redeemed, cleansed, and sanctified by the blood of Jesus. My members, the parts of my body, are instruments of righteousness yielded to God for His service and for His glory. The devil has no place in me, no power over me, no unsettled claims against me. All has been settled by the blood of Jesus. I overcome Satan by the blood of the Lamb and the word of my testimony and I love not my life unto the death. My body is for the Lord and the Lord is for my body.”
Every one of those statements is taken from the Bible, you see?
Now, I don’t know why we should have all the blessing and you just sit there and wish it could be yours. So, we’re going to say it again phrase by phrase and give you the opportunity to say it. This is your confession. You’re not saying it because we’re saying, you’re saying it because the Bible says it. Do you understand? If you believe the Bible, you believe these words. So we’ll say it phrase by phrase and you say it after us. Now, you’re not talking to us, you’re talking into the unseen spiritual world and there is where your words have an impact that you can’t even begin to measure. All right? Are you ready now, phrase by phrase after us, not with us.
“My body is a temple for the Holy Spirit; redeemed, cleansed, and sanctified by the blood of Jesus. My members, the parts of my body, are instruments of righteousness yielded to God for His service and for His glory. The devil has no place in me, no power over me, no unsettled claims against me. All has been settled by the blood of Jesus. I overcome Satan by the blood of the Lamb and the word of my testimony and I love not my life unto the death. My body is for the Lord and the Lord is for my body. Amen.”
If you really believe that, you have to thank God. Just take a moment or two to thank Him. That’s the expression of your faith.
Now, I just want to point out one more thing. There’s only a certain kind of Christian that’s entitled to say that. It says about these Christians they did not love their lives to the death. In other words, they were totally committed. For them the most important thing was not to stay alive, it was to do the will of God. So you have to check. Are you committed? Satan has no fear of uncommitted Christians, he laughs at them. But committed Christians threaten him because he cannot defeat them, you see?
All right. That’s just an example of the word of God used as a weapon against Satan. Now we’ll go on to another aspect of God’s word which is cleansing or washing or sanctifying. Various words can be used. You know the word sanctify means to make holy. So, God’s word washes you, cleanses you, sanctifies you. Not outwardly but inwardly.
You know how terrible it is to be really dirty, hot and sticky and have no way to wash. There you are, you’ve just got to endure it. I mean, as a soldier in the army in wartime we were often in that condition. But think how much worse it is to be dirty inside and have no way to wash. What a priceless privilege it is to know how we can cleanse ourselves. Think of the billions of people on earth today who don’t know how to be cleansed. What a privilege we have. Let’s read Ephesians 5:25–27. Paul is comparing the relationship between a husband and wife to that between Christ and His church which is called the bride of Christ. And so, this is what he says:
“Husbands, love your wives...”
Let me pause there and say to your husbands that’s not a recommendation, it’s a command. There’s a book, I don’t know whether you’ve come across, it’s got a long title, Do Yourself a Favor, Love Your Wife. And really, it’s silly not to love your wife, I’ll tell you that. All right.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it, with the washing of water by the word [the word of God]...”
And that’s the spoken word, rhema, not logos.
“...that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”
That’s the church that Jesus intends to take as His bride. But in order for the church to become like that it has to be cleansed and sanctified with the washing of water by the taught and preached and read word of God. I have preached in so many congregations all around the earth really and I discover that today Charismatics and Pentecostals all have some idea of praise and worship. We’ve got wonderful choruses that have come to us that we can sing, we can clap our hands, shout, get excited. That’s good but I have discovered that there’s a difference in a congregation that is regularly taught the word of God. There’s a purity and a holiness in their worship which you don’t find in a congregation that just comes and expresses its feelings but hasn’t had the cleansing of the word of God. The only way to have true pure worship is for people to be regularly washed and sanctified by the word of God. And that is really the responsibility of the ministry in the church, is to see that God’s people are regularly cleansed with the word of God.
Of course, we also have our own personal responsibility, each of us, to expose our hearts and minds and lives to the word of God and let it wash us and cleanse us and wash away all sorts of debris and dirt and things that hinder our spiritual life and growth. So that’s another effect of God’s word.
And then another really important aspect of the word of God is that it’s a mirror. We turn to the epistle of James for a moment, chapter 1 and verse 23. James says:
“For if any one is a hearer of the word [the word of God] and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror...”
The picture there is the word of God is a mirror. But it’s not a mirror that shows you what a normal mirror shows you which is your outward appearance, but it’s a mirror that shows you what you are like on the inside. It shows you your true spiritual condition. And James warns us not to just look in the mirror, see what we’re like and then go away and forget it and do nothing about it. But he says if we will really look in God’s word as a mirror, it will show us our real inner condition.
I often, when I’m preaching to congregations, I will actually hold the Bible up and say I’m holding a mirror up to you. I’m not going to tell you about yourself, just look in the mirror and see what it tells you. When I’m preaching on deliverance from evil spirits, which I do preach on from time to time, people get rather nervous and I say don’t get nervous, it’s all right. I’m not going to jump off the platform, stick my finger between your eyes and say you have a demon. That’s not it, that’s not the way I operate. I’ll just hold up the mirror and let you look for yourself. And after that it’s up to you to decide what you’ll do about what the mirror shows you.
Looking in the mirror is extremely important for our spiritual growth and welfare. In 2 Corinthians 3:18 Paul says something that’s really very beautiful. He says:
“But we all with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
Now all that’s in the present tense, what we call in English the continuing present tense. While we continually look in the mirror we continually see God’s glory revealed in the mirror. And as we look the Holy Spirit changes us into the likeness of what we see from glory to glory. That’s wonderful but it only works while you’re looking in the mirror. If you take your eyes away from the mirror the Holy Spirit no longer works. So you have to continually be looking in the mirror of the word of God to see what God intends to make of you. And the more you look the more glorious it gets. It’s not static. Paul says it’s from glory to glory. You get one glimpse of what God wants to make you in Christ and you think that’s wonderful. And the next time you look God shows you that was only just one stage but there’s a whole lot more to come. But, please absorb this, the Holy Spirit cannot work unless you’re looking in the mirror. When you take your eyes from the mirror the Holy Spirit ceases to work in you. So, if you want to be changed, spend time looking in the mirror and as you look in the mirror the Holy Spirit will be faithful to change you.
See, one thing I discover today in the world is that I think most people have a very poor self image. They don’t think of themselves in a good sense. And unfortunately, this is also true of multitudes of Christians. I think perhaps there is no problem that Christians struggle with today more than a poor self image. I believe the real Biblical solution is to keep looking in the mirror because the mirror will show you first of all what you’re like—and that’s a shock. But if you keep looking then the mirror begins to show you what God can make you. And it shows you how valuable you are in God’s sight.
You see, if we would take more time with the Bible, we couldn’t really think about ourselves as inferior or not valuable. I’ve helped so many people in this way. One thing I tell people is this. Listen, the value of anything is what people will pay for it. You may have a house and you want to sell the house and the real estate dealer will tell you it’s worth, who knows, $200,000. But nobody will pay more than $120,000 so the real value of that house is not 200,000, it’s 120,000. The value of a thing is what people will pay for it. Now what’s your value? How do you discover your value? By finding out what God paid for you. And God bought you with the most valuable thing in the universe, the blood of Jesus. So that’s your real value, is what God was willing to pay for you. You understand? Don’t let people give you a sense of inferiority, don’t measure yourself by other people, don’t listen to all sorts of negative insinuations but just say—I’ve told many people to say this—I am infinitely valuable in the sight of God. Because, God bought me with the most valuable thing in the universe, the blood of Jesus. Would you like to say that? At least the first part of it. I’ll say it, you say it after me.
“I am infinitely valuable in the sight of God, because God bought me with the most valuable thing in the universe, the blood of Jesus. And, that’s how valuable I am.”
And then you can tell the devil don’t bother with all your accusations and your insinuations because I know my own value. But you won’t know that unless you spend time in the Bible. It’s only as you listen to what God is telling you about yourself and His love for you that you’ll escape from that problem of low self esteem. So take time in front of the mirror.
Most of you ladies here spend at least some time in front of the mirror each day. I’ve brought up nine adopted daughters so I’m not theorizing when I talk about the time girls spend in front of the mirror! How much time do you spend in front of God’s mirror? I’m not saying you shouldn’t care about your outward appearance, I think it’s appropriate. But how much time do you spend about the things that’s permanent? One day all that outward beauty is going to vanish away but what you’re inside, you’re going to live with forever and ever and ever. It’s worth taking time to make yourself beautiful in the sight of God.
There’s a beautiful statement in the Song of Solomon which is the dialogue between a bridegroom and his bride. It’s also a picture of how Jesus as the bridegroom speaks to His church. One of the verses in it, the bridegroom says you are all fair, my beloved, there is no spot in you. And that’s how Jesus speaks to us because of what the blood of Jesus has done for us and what the word of God does for us. We may feel inferior, we may feel not worth very much but if we could take time in front of the mirror we’ll discover that He says to us you are all beautiful, there’s not one spot in you. It’s worth spending time in front of the mirror.
And then I’d like to sum up this teaching on the effect of God’s word by one scripture from John 14. John 14:23. I think this is one of the most amazing verses in the Bible. I tell people if you’ve never been surprised by what the Bible says you’ve never really heard what it’s saying because it’s a very surprising book. Jesus is speaking to His disciples and He says:
“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word...”
What’s the mark of loving Jesus? Keeping His word. It’s not the church we go to, it’s not the denominational label. It’s keeping His word. That’s the proof of our love. And then He says on that basis:
“...my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
What an amazing statement! There are very few places in the Bible where the Bible uses the plural pronoun for God. There are a few. In Genesis the Lord says the man has become as one of us. And there are other passages but they’re very few. But here Jesus doesn’t say I of Himself, He doesn’t say He of the Father, He says we—Father and Son—will come to him and make our home with him. What an astonishing statement! Almighty God, the Creator of the universe, the Father and the Son want to come to us frail unworthy human beings and make their home with us. Isn’t that astonishing? But what’s the condition? Keeping His word. Hearing it, doing it, applying it, living it. And on that basis each of us can become a home for Almighty God.
See, one of the amazing things about the Bible is that really the purpose of the gospel is not to get us to heaven, it’s to get heaven to us. The last chapter of the Bible doesn’t have us all going up to heaven, it has the New Jerusalem coming down to earth. And then it says the tabernacle of God is with men. This is something our minds can never fully comprehend. God wants to live with us. When I consider what kind of creature we are, I’m amazed but the Bible’s message is consistent. And God said we will come and make our home with you if you will keep my word.
Now let me just take a few moments in closing to give you some suggestions as to how to receive the word of God. I’ve spoken about what it will do, some of the things, there are many more. Now let me just take a little while to speak about how you can receive it. I’d like to begin with a scripture that may surprise you in Isaiah 66, the last chapter of Isaiah, the first two verses. This is right in line with what I was saying about God wanting to make His home with us.
“Thus says the Lord, Heaven is my throne, earth is my footstool. Where is the house that you will build me and where is the place of my rest?”
What kind of building are you going to build me, what kind of temple, what kind of cathedral? God says that doesn’t impress me. He says:
“All these things my hands made and all these things exist, says the Lord.”
Now comes the message.
“...but on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at my word...”
There are three requirements there. A sense of being poor. You remember what Jesus said, blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. That doesn’t mean we’re cowardly or timid, it means that we see how poor we are in ourselves, how desperately we need God.
And then it says contrite. That means we are sorry for all the things we’ve said and done that have grieved God and kept Him out of our lives and made it impossible for God really to make His dwelling with us.
And then it says—and this is surprising—the one who trembles at my word. So, one of the requirements for receiving God’s word is to tremble at it. Tremble expressed fear, expresses awe. I think what I’ve said just previously is the reason. If we were to be told that God the Father and God the Son were going to come into this building in the next five minutes, I don’t know how it would be with you but I would tremble. I would have a sense, am I ready? What are they going to do? What are they going to expect? How can we poor earthen human beings face up to God the Father and God the Son? But Jesus said if you keep my word, my Father and I will come and make our home with you. So I understand why God expects us, in a sense, to tremble at His word. Because it’s God in person coming into our lives.
I’ve said many times to people if you want to know what your attitude to God is, find out what your attitude to His word is. Because that’s your attitude to God. You do not love God more than you love His word. You do not obey God more than you obey His word. You do not have more room in your life for God than you have for His word. So if you want to know how much God means to you, find out how much His word means to you. That’s the answer because the word is the way God comes into our lives.
I don’t believe that God wants us frightened but I do believe He wants us reverent. I believe He wants a sense of awe. I can’t go into this but one of the phrases used frequently in the Bible is “the fear of the Lord”. That doesn’t mean we’re afraid of being punished, it means we have a tremendous sense of awe. And if you look, especially in the book of Proverbs and the Psalms, what the Bible says about the fear of the Lord, there is nothing that carries greater promises of blessing in the whole Bible than the fear of the Lord. The Bible says the fear of the Lord tends to life and he that has it will abide satisfied and will not be visited with evil. Think of that. It tends to life. If you have it you’ll always be satisfied and you’ll never be visited with evil. If you have a concordance or any other way to find out, just spend time going through what the Bible says about the fear of the Lord.
In fact, we’re coming in what I’m going to teach right now because the next requirement, which is really right related, is to be humble and God fearing. Psalm 25 is one of my favorite psalms and it tells us the kind of person that God will take trouble to teach. You know, you can enroll in any Bible college or seminary but it doesn’t necessarily mean that God accepts you as a pupil. See? God chooses His pupil by character, not by intellectual attainment or by the degrees they hold. And Psalm 25 tells you what God looks for in the ones He’s willing to accept as His pupils. Psalm 25:8–9:
“Good and upright is the Lord; therefore He teaches sinners in the way. The humble he guides in justice, and the humble he teaches His way.”
What’s the requirement there? Humility, that’s right. The old translation used to say meekness, which I prefer actually because I think meek is in some ways a better word.
And then in the same psalm, verse 12:
“Who is the man that fears the Lord? Him shall he teach in the way He chooses.”
What’s the requirement there for God to teach you? The man who fears the Lord. That’s right.
And in verse 14:
“The secret of the Lord is with those who fear him, and He will show them His covenant.”
The word secret there means the secret counsel of the Lord. God shares His intimate plans with what kind of people? Those who fear Him, that’s right. So this is the attitude that we need to cultivate.
And elsewhere the Bible tells us that we must choose the fear of the Lord. If we don’t choose it we won’t have it. In Proverbs 1 it says disaster comes on those who did not choose the fear of the Lord.
And then in James 1:21 we have again—all these are very similar. As a matter of fact, as I’m teaching them I’m impressed by how much they really all emphasize the same thing. James 1:21:
“Therefore, lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness...”
That’s the first requirement, is we turn our back on everything that’s unclean and impure and unacceptable to God. And there’s basically one word that’s used for doing that. What’s that word? I can’t hear you. Repent, that’s right. Repent means turn away from everything that’s unpleasing and unacceptable to God, turn your back on it. So, James says:
“Lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word [the word of God] which is able to save your souls.”
So how are we to receive it? With what? Meekness, that’s right. You see, it’s all saying the same thing really.
And then you have to be ready to act on what the word says. In John 7:17 Jesus said:
“If anyone wants to do God’s will, he will know concerning the doctrine whether it is from God, or whether I speak of myself.”
Jesus said if all you’re interested in is just knowledge, God doesn’t meet you. But if you want to do God’s will, then God will show you the truth.
And finally I’d like to turn to Psalm 119:11 again as a recommendation to all of you. David said:
“Your word have I laid up as treasure in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
I suggest to you that if you really want God’s blessing and prosperity in the truest sense, then you need to treasure God’s word in your heart. I believe one practical way to do that is to memorize scripture. I believe the practice of memorizing scripture is extremely important. The Bible speaks about those who meditate in the word of God. But, if you don’t have the word of God in you you can’t meditate on it. You have to have it memorized to meditate.
I’d like to share something that Ruth and I read in a book called The Church in China by Carl Lawrence. I don’t know whether any of you read it. I would say it’s an excellent book. If you haven’t read it, especially if you’re Chinese, you owe it to yourself to read it. You know one thing that rather impresses me about the Chinese in Singapore, if I may say it frankly, they’re not unduly concerned about the Chinese in China. I’m surprised. But anyhow, in this book this man said during the Cultural Revolution—you know what the Cultural Revolution was? When Christians were ruthlessly persecuted the only ones that survived were those who had memorized scripture. All the rest either committed suicide or went mad or betrayed their fellow believers. So there is something in memorizing the word of God. It gives you an inner strength and a stability for which there’s no substitute. And my recommendation to you is commit it to memory. Most of you, I’m impressed to see, are pretty young. You’re in your early years. You’ve got a capacity to memorize if you choose to use it. You can do it. And if you don’t you’re depriving yourself of something tremendously valuable.
I don’t know how many verses of scripture Ruth and I know by heart. It must be at least 200 I would think. Probably more. We don’t do that to impress people, we do that because we need it. We’re in continual spiritual warfare. We’re always assailing Satan’s strongholds. And if we didn’t have the word of God hidden in our hearts we wouldn’t survive. We memorize it, we believe it, we confess it.
So, that’s my closing recommendation to those of you who really want to prosper in God. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you which scriptures you need to memorize because they may be quite different from the ones that we memorize. So may the Lord bless you.