Tuesday, 12 May 2015
“Brother Biodun, why not coin a different title?”
“Is serving food to the visiting Jesus a sin?”
“Sin? For crying out loud, is this not a journalistic sensationalism?”
...And barrage of questions might have tinkled the fancy of many who have sighted the phrasal title of this work, including you, maybe. That might need we urgently and critically look at the concept of sin. To do this, I will like to crave your indulgence that we briefly look at a condition in which the health professionals called disease but which many, at least in the past decades, had thought otherwise. In your own candid opinion, is being fat a disease? Or maybe it’s a sign of good living. Yet, irrespective of the side of the divide you belong, the clinicians have given the verdict: obesity is a disease. At least they know more than we do.
But for sure, God knows more than all we will ever know. And He has given a verdict on sin. And the verdict: Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin. (Jas 4:17 KJV)
Amplified Bible, New English Translation, New Living Translation and Contemporary English Version, can you please echo this louder and clearer:
So any person who knows what is right to do but does not do it, to him it is sin.
(Jas 4:17 AMP)
So whoever knows what is good to do and does not do it is guilty of sin.
(Jas 4:17 NET)
Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.
(Jas 4:17 NLT)
If you don't do what you know is right, you have sinned.
(Jas 4:17 CEV)
Sin has two concepts: the shouting concept or sin of commission and the silent concept or sin of omission. Summarily, sin is not only in the commission, but in the omission.
James 4:17 is about the silent concept of sin and this piece of work also will be predominantly on that.
I preached somewhere and I said, “What does Adam need a tree to tell him ‘this is good, this is evil’ for, when he already has God as his wisdom.” Through his sweet fellowship with God, he gets to do the good and the right always. It is pathetic to be looking for knowledge when you already have wisdom. In fact, you will have to pardon my use of strong language, it is a sign of confusion and madness to be looking for knowledge when you are already applying the knowledge correctly. Or what is the ultimate goal of knowledge acquisition if not correct and useful application. Even the Bible says wisdom is the principal thing. Without this tree, he correctly and accurately named all the animals. Without this tree he hit a succinct nomenclature for Eve. Of what good is this offer of knowledge of good and evil from the tree when you cannot correctly apply it for once? OK, it gave them the knowledge that they are naked, yet it was the fig leaves that will wither in few hours they could think of covering the nakedness with. Alright, they got to know they were naked before God, is it behind a tree they can hide from the omnipresent God. No wonder they died, because the knowledge that is not rightly applied will kill its getter.
Brethren, the problem of sin, most especially the sin of omission, is not primarily the problem of knowing what is right. We have all been shown:
He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
(Mic 6:8 KJV)
Many ways he has employed to show us. The two basic ways are through nature and conscience and these are common to every human species. So, the problem is not knowing what is good per say. The big problem is doing what you know is good. And in-between knowing what is good and doing what is good is the state of sin of omission. You remember what Jesus told the Pharisees: If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth. (Joh 9:41 KJV). Apostle Paul was hitting at that point of how the point of knowledge starts off a stopwatch of the state of sin of omission until the point of application is reached … for by the law is the knowledge of sin (Rom 3:20 KJV).
So, the matter of the sin of omission is the heart of the matter in the matter of this work. Permit me to paint a scenario, it might change our mindset about sin of omission and how, though I had called it a silent concept, it can be very deadly:
You are passing beside a banana peel and you have a nudge in your spirit to remove it. But you feel why must you remove it believing the person that has carelessly dropped it on the way should be responsible for removing it. You have not gone too far when an incident happened. A boy being chased by another boy steps on the banana peel and falls hitting his occiput (back of the head) against a nearby stone. You are among those who rush to the scene. But the life of the boy could not be saved as the impact is too great for him to survive it. Now, let me ask this question: who killed the boy? While it may be open to debate, we cannot but agree here that the contribution of the person who dropped the banana peel (sin of commission) and the one who refused to pick it up (sin of omission) to the boy’s death cannot be wished away. I’m sure, though nobody knew that the Spirit had told you to remove the banana peel, you will suffer some scruples of guilty conscience for days knowing full well that you were supposed to be the last line of saviour for the boy’s life and you bugled it.
Brethren, that is the danger of this silent killer called sin of omission.
But then the sin of omission the book will be focusing on is even more peculiar. It is the type that substitutes what is optional for the moment for what is needful for the moment. So, this one uses the simultaneous equation method of elimination by substitution. See how Apostle Paul puts it:
All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient…
(1Co 6:12 KJV)
The Amplified Bible has more after the word ‘expedient’. Let’s take a listen to it:
Everything is permissible (allowable and lawful) for me; but not all things are helpful (good for me to do, expedient and profitable when considered with other things)…
(1Co 6:12 AMP)
The Message Bible, in its characteristic thought-for-thought ways, has this to render:
Just because something is technically legal doesn't mean that it's spiritually appropriate.
(1Co 6:12 MSG)
Let me take a sharp peek into our golden passage for the book and take a statement of Jesus there:
But one thing is needful
(Luk 10:42 KJV)
In essence, Jesus was saying this is the need of the moment. But only one of the sisters engaged herself in the needful. The other sister busied herself in what she felt is the urgent. That’s it. One of the tricks the enemy uses against us is bringing a matter that looks urgent and compulsory to displace the one that is expedient and needful. At times I frown when three or four people rush out to attend to a generator that goes off while the word of God, which we are not recording and which even the whole congregation will still grab without the aid of a public address, is going on. Even if we must rush out, do we need three to four men to attend to it?
Most of the times, the things we feel are urgent which scuttle our golden window for spiritual growth and development end up only as a farce. They are not what they claim to be. Has it happened to you before, in which what you feel is urgent and give your time, which you could have given to the needful, to, end up not working out. At the end of the waste, you begin to see many forgone alternatives you never thought were ever there.
A woman was lamenting in a cab I was in. She did not go to church because buying the fish she will sell from the market is the urgent thing. She had to even pay exorbitant transport fare because of the fuel crisis. Yours sincerely, she got to the market only to be stared in the face with the reality that even the fish sellers could not make it to the market because of the fuel crisis. She has lost out at both ends. The urgent deceived her, the needful eluded her.
Sorry to say, many women see cooking and washing piled up clothes as very urgent matters that can easily displace their private personal devotion. And women are not the only culprits. Other things like work backlog from office can fill up that precious space for men too.
Permit me to observe that this our present generation is a busy generation. Even crawling and toddling babies had learnt at that tender age to get themselves busy doing nothing. And we adults too have refused to be outdone in engaging ourselves endlessly doing things that almost always amount to nothing. I looked for my life before the coming of the GSM and I can’t find it. The device is so wired into my system now that when I’m praying and choose to ignore its attention-calling ringing during the prayer, my mind will still think two or three things about it even though I’ve managed not to pick the call.
So many distractions in our today’s world that I discover that attention focusing is becoming a herculean task. A baby suddenly cries and every member of my congregation look in that direction as if they’ve been praying for something to distract them or are all the mothers of the baby whom they are not seeing for the first time or hearing cry for the first time.
Try to focus the attention of many in our adult population today for a bit long; welcome to sleeping galore, a world of absent-mindedness, or earnest prayer for a ‘saving’ distraction. If you cannot succeed in doing it for them, will they then be able to do it for themselves. No wonder, meditation is a lost art today. Many of us would prefer the ‘ministry’ of busy here and there. I felt we need Moses’ injunction of ‘stand still and see the salvation of the Lord’ in our today’s world more than the Israelites at the Red Sea had needed it. Have we forgotten he has said ‘in quietness shall be your strength’.
For thus saith the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not.
(Isa 30:15 KJV)
Little wonder the Deeper Lifers call that golden moment of tête-à-tête with God ‘quiet time’.
Brethren, irrelevances have taken up and filled up our daily window of opportunity for spiritual growth and development. I remember that at a point I had to let go my beloved Channels TV News at 10 so as to be an early bird with the Lord. Yes, I need to be current but I need more to be correct (spiritually) than current (socially). Remember the Amplified Bible’s expansion: expedient and profitable when considered with other things.
I once ask some people in my church, assuming you have clothes that have piled up which you feel you must urgently wash in the morning, which one will you sacrifice out of these for it: morning devotion, cooking and work-resumption. You could imagine the answer. It is the morning devotion that will have to go. This suggests that the foundational problem is wrong value orientation: what do we consider as priorities. You will definitely abandon the clothe-washing no matter the pile, once it is time to go to work. But morning devotion can go for the urgent clothe-washing. Could it be because money is directly involved with work and not with devotion? Oh! We feel God will understand. Yes, he will understand but we would have lost valuables and missed the needful.
In one of my yet to be published books I said every time that comes our way has a purpose and attached to the purpose are blessings. So, if you are asking for God to bless you, what he will bring your way is an opportunity of time (Ecc 9:11). You need discernment to discover the purpose in the time and you need discipline to stay put with the purpose for your blessings to be eventually released. Let me illustrate it:
You need a child. God arranged a time for a message to come your way. You pay attention to the word of God, avoiding distractions (discipline) and there and then the Lord visited you through his word. You see, you miss the timing, you miss the blessing.
But by the way, have you noticed that growth is not a sudden phenomenon. How come you are now so big from that tiny baby you were many years ago. You grow gradually over the years. At a stage, our baby’s feet were managing to touch the ground when we put him in his walker. I just noticed one day that he stood up in the walker and his feet were firmly on the ground. I was tempted to ask just when did this happen.
As physical growth, so is spiritual growth. I was reading a particular portion of the Shepherd’s Staff and I love the illustration it gave about this gradual daily growth. It likens it to a vessel full of water in which as small pebbles of stone are dropped into it, the water is being displayed by the stone little by little until it becomes full of stone. What was the point? The book observed that as we come to him daily in the place of devotion, he gradually and little by little replaces our weakness with his strength and we steadily grow in spirit.
As is Yorubas’ wont to say, I need to prop the head of this my rhapsody of burden somewhere:
In economics, we have close substitutes. Close-up is a close substitute of Macleans; Lux is the close substitute of Premier. But personal spiritual development has no close substitute. It has no close substitute in the urgent like cooking, washing clothes and putting house in order. It has no close substitute in clearing work backlog like treating files at home and writing lesson note. It has no close substitute in getting current like watching news and following ball. It has no close substitute in being sociable like chatting, networking online and in real life and space. It has no close substitute in getting entertained like watching films, all watchables, and playing game. Sir, it does not even have a close substitute in ‘churching’. Alarmed at the last sentence? Please, don’t be!
Suffice to say that the best support you can give a child is to spoon-feed him. But then, his body will have to do the digestion, absorption and assimilation on its own. The church and its structure and programmes can support, but real spiritual growth and development in the end will have to be private and personal.
Dear readers, welcome to the burden called Sin of Martha. So, if you eventually could not go the whole hug of the book, the fire has been set in your bones. But why not, you can go the whole hug, I trust you, you will not walk away.
First thing first, let us familiarise ourselves with our anchor passage.
Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
(Luk 10:38-42 KJV)
Now comparing scriptures with scriptures, this is Mary and Martha of John 11 fame. This is a family that love Jesus and it was also categorically recorded in the Holy Writ that Jesus loved them (Joh 11:5). Martha appeared the eldest. She did well by receiving Jesus into her home (v.38).
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
(Joh 1:12 KJV)
She took a step further, she prepared a delicacy for Jesus their august visitor. I believe she did well in that too. But then she went for overkill. Let me state categorically here that the overkill was not wrong in itself. The problem is that the time she was employing for the much serving was expected to be used for something else. So, at that point she was no longer serving. She was ‘cumbering’.
The word ‘cumbering’ should ring a bell if you are a studious student of the Bible. It actually reappeared three chapters away from our golden passage,
He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.
(Luk 13:6-9 KJV)
A certain vineyard owner who could have filled all his land with vine decided to give one fig tree just a space there. Of course, you know it takes years for tree to grow. Yet, the man patiently waited for it. Now, it was time to produce fruits. The owner came the first time, he got nothing. The second year, yet no fruit. The third year, the story repeated itself. He could bear it no longer and out of anger gave the instruction:
…Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?
(Luk 13:7 KJV)
Cumbereth the ground. First, he was using the lot that could have been given to one of those highly and yearly productive vines. Thank God, we that should have been alienated from the commonwealth of Israel are now being planted in his vineyard (Eph 2:12-13). But, look here, you planting of the Lord, it does not stop there. The vine owner is expecting fruit.
Any activity that will not give him the expected fruit is ‘cumbering’ even if it carries the label of flourishing, serving or churching. The intercessor that interceded for one more year shall not hesitate to tell the owner to bring it down if the new window of opportunity expires without fruitfulness. He said much in Joh 15:2 where he sees the fig tree being a branch of himself as a divine vine.
He comes to Martha to build capacity in her to yield this much needed fruit, but Martha was cumbering. She was not available. How often times he has come in the cool of the day willing to dig about us and dung us but we are not available because we are busy cumbering. No wonder we have many fruitless figs littering our worship houses. The result of cumbering is obvious: all pains, no gain,
Thou art careful and troubled about many things
(Luk 10:42 KJV)
Imagine, cares, that is, worries and anxieties, and troubles in many things we attempt. You see how things turn out. We do not allow him to build capacity in us; we jump out cumbering about in many things. And when we eventually run into troubled waters, the one we did not make our first and foremost resort, we end up turning to for help as our last resort. The matter we have tried to hide from the father, it’s now the same father who will have to resolve it, says a Yoruba adage.
The dangers of jumping out without giving up our days unto him are many.
Now, hear me out, I’m not saying issues or problems may not arise in those days we have sweet fellowship with our Father in the secret place. But his abiding shadow over us throughout the day will give us peace of mind and heart in all situations:
Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
(Php 4:6-7 KJV)
You see that old English ‘careful’ which means ‘anxious’ there again. Nothing will make you anxious and worried, because you have settled it all in God’s presence. Your situation may be troubling but your heart will not be troubled. That is, you will pass through a troubling situation without a troubled heart because the peace of God is constantly guarding your heart and mind. Oh, the peace the abiding shadow of God imparts on those who learn to sit in the secret place of the most High.
(1) He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
(2) I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.
(3) Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence.
(4) He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
(5) Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day;
(6) Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
(7) A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.
(8) Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.
(9) Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation;
(10) There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
(11) For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
(12) They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
(13) Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.
(14) Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.
(15) He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him.
(16) With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.
(Psa 91:1-16 KJV)
It is in the secret place that secrets are revealed. You don’t give secret out in a public place. These ones know so, and have learnt to come to their Father in the secret place for the secret of successful living. And because they have now known what many do not know, they exude so much confidence. Hear them:
I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.
(Psa 91:2 KJV)
Let the mountain even move into the sea, they will still reaffirm,
(1) God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
(2) Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
(3) Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.
(4) There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.
(Psa 46:1-4 KJV)
Yes, there is a river. They have peace like a river in their soul. Little wonder, the scriptural injunction finds an easy fulfillment in them:
Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.
(Php 4:4 KJV)
Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.
(Hab 3:17-19 KJV)
Ah! That classic of a hymn is true:
Oh, what peace we often forfeit!
Oh, what needless pain we bear!
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer
Needless pains. Needless pains. Needless pains everywhere. Yet, we refuse to retrace our steps back to the abandoned secret place where the Father is ever waiting to soothe us from yesterday’s pains and brace us for today’s vicissitudes.
Back to Martha and Mary’s story. I sense someone might feel Mary was wicked, insolent and indolent. Why did she leave her older sister alone to serve? Before we make any statement on this let us put this particular Jesus’ visit in proper perspective.
Luke 10 begins with Jesus sending 70 disciples in pairs on a preliminary missionary journey to every city and place he himself would still visit. That is, on the average Jesus has 35 places to visit on evangelism when this 70 returns. He had earlier, in chapter 9, sent out the twelve on missionary journey. Why was he so vigorously pursuing this massive evangelisation? He told the 70 in plain language:
The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few...
(Luk 10:2 KJV)
This is a real urgent matter that needs a real urgent attention and measure. Jesus actually told them not to salute anybody on the way. No time for those plenty exchange of pleasantries, like our people in some parts of Ondo State.
Another detail we must point out in their brief is that they should eat whatsoever is set before them. The Message Bible adds: don’t move from house to house, looking for the best cook in town.
Now the 70 have returned and it is now time for Jesus to embark on the massive, main and urgent missionary journey that will cut across, remember, at least 35 places.
It is in that mood and time that Jesus arrived at Martha and Mary’s place. You will agree with me it is no mood for wining and dining. I’m sure if they have set water before Jesus, it would have sufficed. He is in no mood for food. He is in the mood for souls.
Mary was able to discern the mood and ‘hang on every word Jesus said’ (exactly how Message Bible puts it). That is the essential thing to do at the moment. How I wish many of us were like Mary.
I must admit there was another time of visit later on that Jesus had all the time to have dinner with them,
Jesus…came to Bethany…There they made him a supper; and Martha served
(Joh 12:1-2 KJV)
Well, I sensed, Martha has learnt from her mistake by then, for it was said ‘she served’ and not ‘she was cumbered with much serving’ again.
But the point we are making here is that at the point of our main story, Jesus was in no mood for delicacies. He has a divine message to pour out into souls. And Mary was there as a ready receptacle. So, don’t be angry if some people start leaving you alone to your cumbering-serving to attend to and return to their cobwebbed secret place of the most High. It is a sign that you need to do likewise:
Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.
(Hos 10:12 KJV)
In this chapter I will seek to expound the two main gains of allowing God to brood over and interface with the face of your deep in the secret place of the most High. The two main gains are direction and conviction. Do I need to add spiritual growth and development? Are they not the sum total of it all?
Most of the blessings I have been alluding to in the previous chapters as the proceeds of personal devotion have something or the other to do with divine direction. So we have our work cut out for us with respect to direction.
The best way God talks to us is through personal revelation from His word and the best way we talk to God is through personal prayer. And these are the obtainable two on the menu of a daily personal devotion.
There we receive directions and instructions for our lives and that of our ‘neighbours’, and can also ask for clarifications on such directions and instructions. It is a place of the most-rewarding two-way communication. You get hindsight about past events; insight into current matters and foresight about future affairs. You get ahead of situations and circumstances and nothing catches you unawares because you have rubbed mind with God that can never be caught unawares.
There, he gives you a peep and peek into the day.
Consider Jesus, our perfect example,
And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed. And Simon and they that were with him followed after him. And when they had found him, they said unto him, All men seek for thee. And he said unto them, Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth.
(Mar 1:35-38 KJV)
He had a fruitful ministration packed full with many healings and deliverance. And the general expectation, even among the disciples, was that he would continue there the following day, for all men are seeking for him. But in the protracted session with the Father in the secret place, he has received a definite direction: move to the next towns today.
For yet another example, while the disciples were in a great confusion and frustration on how to feed 5,000 men, besides women and children, the Bible says Jesus was not moved a bit ‘for he himself knew what he would do’ (Joh 6:6). How do you think he would know what to do about a situation that suddenly came on them? Somebody say, ‘in the secret place of the most High.’
Almost everybody was begging Paul not to go to Jerusalem when the prophecy of Agabus suddenly came. But that is no news to Paul. Going to Jerusalem is a settled case in the secret place of the most High. How do I know? There is a biblical hint to that effect. Spare me some minutes as I trace the hint.
(Act 18:21 KJV) …I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return again unto you, if God will. And he sailed from Ephesus.
(Act 20:13 KJV) And we went before to ship, and sailed unto Assos, there intending to take in Paul: for so had he appointed, minding himself to go afoot.
(Act 20:22-24 KJV) And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: (23) Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. (24) But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.
Confused? No, don’t be. The unlocking key is Paul choosing to go on foot the distance his travelling mates were in the ship covering. He needs a personal moment where he would have a tête-à-tête with the Father over this matter. And he got it. It was a trek alone with God or shall we call it a mobile secret place of the most High.
I relish those sweet moments I trekked about 3-4 km distance from Oke-Ilewo Zone 2 to Ijeun Titun (Both in Abeokuta, Ogun State). A trek, sweet moments? That’s what I’m talking about with respect to Paul. I usually cover that distance between my home and my church in the cool of the evening (around 9pm) while going to vigil, and in the cool of the morning (around 5am) while coming from the vigil. The calmness and serenity of the environment, free from the hustle and bustle of the day, presents a perfect atmosphere for an ongoing communion with God. They are moments I will engage my thoughts in reasoning at length with God. They are fruitful and rewarding thought-communions. You see, I can understand what Paul was doing through my own experience.
Where are we? Yes! Another example of Paul settling the issue of going to Jerusalem in the secret place of the most High, so all the calls to him to jettison the mission because of the danger ahead did not move him. He has already known what God wants for him:
And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem… the Holy Ghost witnesseth… that bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of these things move me… so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry…
(Act 20:22-24 KJV)
Here is one of the interpretations Dr John Gill, in his commentary, gave to ‘bound in the spirit’:
Paul was under such a strong impulse of the Spirit of God, by which he was moved to such a vehement desire to go [to Jerusalem], that the bonds and afflictions he saw waited for him there, could not deter him, and all the entreaties of his friends could not dissuade him from it:
Those that daily receive directions in the secret place of the most High are not tossed here and there by circumstances or people’s cacophony of counsels.
Paul was resolute. That will lead us to the second main gain of daily personal devotion.
The Paul’s example we just examined made me come up with a personally generated maxim: they that are strongly persuaded cannot be easily dissuaded.
The issue of conviction is the issue of faith. And what is faith? Hebrews 11:1 is there to help us out:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
(Heb 11:1 KJV)
The word ‘substance’, what are its various shades of meaning? That is the work of the Amplified Bible to sort out:
Now faith is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses].
(Heb 11:1 AMP)
So, it also means assurance. We can then say, until there is an assurance of faith, faith is in the theory. An active faith is one that comes with assurance, persuasion and confirmation. Even a Bible translation says faith is being sure. How then do we confirm faith, when the matter of faith is not primarily in the physical realm?
(For we walk by faith, not by sight:)
(2Co 5:7 KJV)
This is the crux of the matter. And God has been helping me to preach on this for some past weeks now. Let us start this way, the Bible says,
So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
(Rom 10:17 KJV)
Imagine, Abraham simply heard God speak and he took off in obedience,
Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee…So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him…
(Gen 12:1, 4 KJV)
A minister came to my church on change of pulpit and painted the picture of this more vividly. It made me respect Abraham’s faith the more. He gave an illustration of a neighbour packing to travel and you asked him, ‘Where are you going?’ And he gave a shocking reply, ‘I don’t know where I’m going but I just know I’m travelling.’ What will be your conclusion? The minister also added, ‘If you have his people’s number you will stylishly delay him while you move aside and call them to come and attend to him before the madness becomes a public embarrassment.’
That was what Abraham did because of his faith in God. A man of God actually defined faith acronymically thus: Forsaking All I Trust Him = FAITH. Abraham forsook all. It all starts by hearing.
Yes, faith starts by hearing God’s word but it will not end in hearing, if it is to become an assured and persuaded faith. Some other processes must be involved, other than hearing. And what are they? 1John 1:1 has the perfect answer:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;
(1Jn 1:1 KJV)
You see, after hearing God’s word, we must proceed to seeing the word with our eyes, then we must look upon it and then our hands must handle it, for it to become the word of life and faith. And all these processes following hearing are personal. It is in the secret place of the most High we execute them.
How do we see it with our eyes? Ask the nobler Berean Christians of Acts 17:11. They do not just hear the word and start jumping up, ending up like the emotional hearers who received the word with gladness but when affliction arose got offended because they have no root or deepness of earth [Mar 4:5-6,16-17]. They proceeded to studying the word themselves. They want to see it for themselves. Faith is not because others said it. God asked Jeremiah: what do you see? [Jer 1:11] Remember, faith is being sure. We need to study to show ourselves APPROVED UNTO GOD in the matter of faith. If I am going to forsake all other alternatives and cling to him only, let me see what he has said with my own eyes.
And I must not only see it once and take my gaze away. Following the order in 1Jo 1:1, Apostle John added, ‘we have looked upon.’ I like the Yoruba version rendition of it. Let me give you the direct translation of the version: that that we have fastened our eyes upon. Whaoh! That is meditation par excellence. It must fill our eyes till it pervades our mind and eventually fixes our heart. Hear how the psalmist puts it,
They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed.
(Psa 34:5 KJV)
And it is this meditation that will lead to the final stage. This final stage is the stage of possession of the processed faith. It is also the stage God releases grace for exploits of faith. At this point the word becomes flesh. Something you can handle. Something that becomes part and parcel of you. Something that fills you with so much ‘intoxication’ of grace and you become so much persuaded and assured of your faith that you can do anything for it.
Paul was such persuaded:
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Rom 8:38-39 KJV)
Abraham was equally persuaded,
He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.
(Rom 4:20-21 KJV)
Job was so much persuaded,
Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him. He also shall be my salvation: for an hypocrite shall not come before him.
(Job 13:15-16 KJV)
The three Hebrew boys were unrepentantly persuaded,
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
(Dan 3:16-18 KJV)
Sir, when are you going to be fully persuaded? It is time to get to the daily secret place of the most High to get your faith on the sure footing. Enough of those unfaithfulnesses, denials, betrayals, backslidings, compromises, sin relapses, unbeliefs, doubts, little faiths, weak faiths, faithlessnesses.
Compare how our two main characters, Martha and Mary, fared when their faith was put to test (John 11). Martha was going back and forth, displaying confusion in her faith (Joh 11:21,24,39-40). But Mary’s action was definite: she worshipped, made just a sentence, and yours sincerely, there and then Jesus was moved to action:
…he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled and said, where have ye laid him?...Jesus wept (Joh 11:33-35 KJV).
It pays to choose the needful in the place of personal daily devotion.
As I wind down the book, let me use this last chapter to spare some thoughts on few tips towards making personal devotion a daily practice.
First of all, a personal fellowship with God needs ‘a cool of the day’ (Gen 3:8). Yours might be in the evening, in the middle of the night or early in the morning. It is preferably a time when you have been refreshed. That is, when you have had a siesta, a nap, an unwinding or your beauty sleep. If he must have you, he must have your best, not your leftover. One of the signs it’s a leftover is our dozing during devotion.
Whatever ‘cool of the day’ you choose, it must be consistent, regular and must not be one that will open you up to distractions. He will appreciate your full attention. Not cooking in one hand and observing devotion at the other hand. If you are having a lifetime audience with the president and your phone is ringing, will you ‘pause’ the president to pick it? Behold, he that is greater than the president is here.
This ‘cool of the day’ matter might involve making sacrifices. I earlier gave you my own example. I had to cut back on some activities in the evening like watching my favourite Channels TV news at 10 to be able to sleep earlier so as to observe my ‘cool of the day’ of around 4am.
Having settled that of the ‘cool of the day’, let’s get into the devotion proper. Like I earlier hinted somewhere, a complete devotion has two parts: the part of God’s word and the part of prayer. But before the two parts an introductory part is advisable.
It is advisable that you start your devotion with some songs of praise which should involve parts of your body for obvious reasons of appreciating God and also making your faculties fully alert. You can clap, you can dance, you can shake your head, you can tap your feet, you can snap your fingers, and you can move your waist. After that, offer a brief thanksgiving prayer for sleeping and waking up. Finally, round off this introductory part by briefly committing your spirit, soul and body unto the Holy Spirit as you go into the devotion.
Word of God Part
This will include Bible reading and Bible meditation on a daily basis, and Bible study at periods you have more time in your hand, e.g. Saturday for some people, and at some other free times of the day that can be used for it.
Now, let me get to the specifics of the daily Bible reading and meditation aspect of the devotion.
You need to get a workable Bible reading plan. That is, a Bible reading plan that will best suit the time you want to devote to your daily devotion. Maybe 30 minutes, 1 hour etc. Some Bible, like The Student Bible, have such Bible reading plans you can select from. Also some commercial devotionals have reading plan that will enable you follow through the Bible systematically.
NOTE: Devotionals, like Every Day with Jesus, Daily Manna, Open Heavens, Our Daily Bread etc., should never substitute personal Bible reading in your devotion. To me, they at best desserts. That is, if you are a family person, they should be restricted to your family devotion, which should come up after your personal devotion. [Marriage should not stop you from communing with God personally.] And if you are single, they should come up after your personal devotion as ‘jaara’ [bonus]. So, when I say Bible reading plan in a devotional, I mean Bible chapters to read that follow each other systematically in the devotional, like, Monday April 15, Matthew 1…Tuesday April 16, Matthew 2…. Not the inspirational write-up.
And in case you don’t have access to any prepared reading plan anywhere, you can easily make one for yourself. For example, if you want to be reading two chapters a day, you can make it one chapter from the Old Testament, and one chapter from the New Testament, like this:
Mon: Genesis 1 Matthew 1
Tue: Genesis 2 Matthew 2
Wed: Genesis 3 Matthew 3 etc.
A common mistake we make, that makes a daily devotion easy to start but difficult to maintain, is the mistake of overzealousness. The first part of that mistake is that we set unrealistic goals. We want to start with three hours when we could have started with 30 minutes and gradually increase it as we get more and more stable. Also in the name of finishing the whole Bible in record time, we want to read too many chapters in a day. We should always remember, this is not about making record but making a life that counts before God.
The second part of the mistake concerns confusing Bible reading with Bible meditation. We want to meditate on all the verses of the two, three or four chapters that we have chosen to read per day. That will be too much, at least for a start. Bible reading means reading for comprehension. Once you can understand the story or the main ideas of the passage, you have had a meaningful reading. For example, after reading John 2:1-10, I can briefly tell the story in my own words:
Jesus was invited to a marriage in Cana in Galilee with his mother and disciples. When they run out of wine Jesus’ mother directed the servants to Jesus and he told them to fill six stone waterpots with water which they did. When he told them to draw it out, it has become a better wine which the governor of the feast made a positive comment on.
That is Bible reading. It is not yet time for interpretation or application. Just understanding what the passage is all about.
Now, to the Bible meditation. As you proceed in the Bible reading, there are some points the Holy Spirit may draw your attention specially to a word, a phrase, a clause or a verse. That is an indication that he wants to talk to you on that word, phrase, clause or verse. Those are points for meditation.
How then do you handle those nudges of the Spirit at those points. Remember, the spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet. Take a marker or pen and mark that word, phrase, clause or verse and go ahead with your reading for comprehension. If he nudges at another point, mark it again and go ahead with your reading for comprehension. When you are then through with the Bile reading for the day, now go with a heart ready for meditation to those marked points and let the Holy Spirit speak to your life and situation through God’s word as you roll over and over those marked words, phrases, clauses and verses in your mind.
The first port of call in prayer should be prayer responses to those Holy Spirit-mediated points of meditation in the scriptures. That is when to settle it with God. If it is a rebuke, it is time to tell God you are sorry and ask for his help. If it is a promise, it is time to claim it. If it is the revelation of the enemy’s plan, it is time to engage in spiritual warfare. If it is a lacking spiritual virtue, it is time to pray it in. if it is exposure of weakness, habit and sin, it is time to ask forgiving mercy and enabling grace. If it is affirmation of a biblical truth, it is time to receive the assurance of faith. Yes the outcomes of our meditation should be our first prayer points.
Following closely is offering up ourselves to God by confessing our sins and dedicating ourselves afresh to him.
Now is the time to lay our plans for the day bare before him for correction, approval and implementation.
This should be followed by praying for our family, starting from our immediate family to our extended family.
The final part of our prayer should be about making intercessions. This could include our leaders, both spiritual and political, missionaries and missionary works, our church, people with particular challenges we know or are moved to pray for, and so on and so fault.
Permit me to drop my pen here and observe my personal devotion because I am writing late into the night to meet deadline [such emergency devotion observance we are also forced into when a vigil crosses the part of our personal devotion time by finishing close to it or extending it a bit further].
I love you and am expecting from you a very vibrant daily devotion that will keep you constantly and consistently tuned in to the heavenly frequency as testimony to this book.
Remain delivered from the sin of Martha. Shalom!