Tag Archives: Knowing God

Discovering God in the Psalms: Victory over Darkness

Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You.

Psalm 139:12 (NKJ)

Children are typically afraid of the dark. It is in the dark where “things go bang in the night” and where unseen dangers may lie. Darkness is defined as the absence of visible light. Darkness is changed only by the introduction of light. One can never fully appreciate the value of light until they have experienced the unsettling feeling of being “in the dark.”

Although children fear the darkness, there is one time when they ignore that fear—when it’s time to play “hide and seek.” Darkness provides the “perfect condition” for its execution; it is in the darkness that a person can remain unseen as they blend into the trees’ shadows and the surrounding houses. If, however, this game were to be played with God, one would find themselves at a marked disadvantage. Why? Because darkness and light are alike to Him—the night shines as the day. It is God’s omnipresence that provides the believer the “perfect condition” for victory over darkness.

Light and darkness are a natural phenomenon associated with day and night. People also use the terms metaphorically, especially in Scripture where the two are given theological significance. In the Old Testament, God acted at Creation to separate and distinguish between darkness and light, night and day (Gen. 1:4, 5, 18). Darkness was also associated with judgment and distress (Ex.10:21; Ps. 91:6), God’s hiddenness (Dt. 4:11; 5:23) and divine intervention (Isa. 9:2; Ps. 18:28). Darkness is a powerful New Testament image. While darkness is used as a moral metaphor to describe sinful acts and sinful life style (Rom. 13:12; Eph. 5:11), it also used to describe the evil power, holding people in its dominion (Col. 1:13).

Darkness in our scripture text references the oppressive nature of darkness. “Hide” in Hebrew means to “to crush or bruise.” In the Old Testament it is used only here and in Genesis 3:15 and Job 9:17. Even believers feel spiritual darkness’ crushing power as it attempts to control them through their unredeemed flesh (Rom. 7:17-25). It is here that God’s omnipresence can lead believers to victory through darkness.

Darkness cannot hide. It is God’s presence (through His indwelling Spirit) that exposes and dispels darkness. Believers are rescued from the realm of darkness to become children of the light (Eph. 5:8, 14). They share a place in God’s kingdom of light (Col. 1:12) and even act as light in this dark world (Mat.5:14-16). The believer’s life reflects Jesus’ light and ultimately declare his praises (1 Pet. 2:9). It is in Christ that we have victory over darkness. Jesus Christ was the “change agent” that was introduced into darkness (Mat. 4:16) giving life and light to all who would receive it (Ps. 36:9).

The prophets promised that one day God Himself would live among men to replace the sun as their “everlasting light.” Isaiah 60:19-20 reads:

“The sun shall no longer be your light by day, Nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; But the LORD will be to you an everlasting light, And your God your glory. Your sun shall no longer go down, Nor shall your moon withdraw itself; For the LORD will be your everlasting light, And the days of your mourning shall be ended.”

Praise God for His Light.

The Voice of the Good Shepherd

“When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.” John 10:4 (NIV)

It is God’s desire to speak to His children.  As we’ve discussed, God speaks in a number of ways.  In the past, He spoke through the prophets.  In our lives, God speaks through circumstances, including closed doors and even in His silence.

Hebrew 1:2 states that:  “God has spoken to us in these last days through His Son Jesus Christ”.  Jesus’ incarnation became the anointed vehicle by which God would reveal not only His plan of salvation but also Who He was.  In His teachings, Jesus would disclose to believers that God not only listens to their cry but also speaks to them through both their expressed and unspoken needs. We complete this series, When God Speaks, by focusing on the believer’s need to listen for God voice as Jesus teaches about the “Good Shepherd”.

In John 10, Jesus launches a scathing charge against the religious leaders of that day.  Instead of caring for the people, like a true shepherd, they would perpetrate theft and abuse against the most vulnerable of the community. They are described in this illustration as thieves, robbers (John 10:1) and hirelings (John 10:1; 12, 13).  Jesus uses this familiar occupation to illustrate to His disciples, and us, an important fact about followers of Christ—they know His voice.

Followers of Christ know His voice.  He “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3).  To call His sheep by name infers a personal relationship with the Good Shepherd.  As He approaches, the sheep “hear His voice” and prepare to respond to His lead.  We must be prepared to hear Jesus’ voice as we move through the busyness of our daily lives.  These activities, though necessary, often deprive us of important time to receive God’s guidance and instruction for the “sheep of His pasture” (Ps. 100:3).

Followers of Christ know His voice.  They know His voice through experiencing His love.  He first loved us (1 John 4:19) and gave himself as a ransom for all men (1Tim. 2:6). The hireling doesn’t care about the sheep—he flees when trouble (the wolf) draws near.  God demonstrated his love for us in that while we were still sinners, He died for us (Rom. 5:8).

Followers of Christ know His voice.  They do not know a stranger’s voice (John 10:4, 5) and therefore, will not follow them. The voice of the stranger represents the world and its trappings.  The stranger attempts to lure followers of Christ away from the safety and the will of the Good Shepherd.  However, even if the sheep goes astray, they can be  assured that He will come to find them (Luke 15:4-6).

The Good Shepherd still calls out today. It is up to each of His “sheep” to listen for His voice.   This can be accomplished by reading His Word and spending time in prayer and meditation.  The 23rd Psalm is the most familiar and most popular of the Psalms; this is because of the reassurance and comfort individuals receive while reading it.  Jesus’ presence as the Good Shepherd promises provision, rest and restoration, and protection (Ps. 23:4).  Take a spiritual break and read the 23rd Psalm.  Listen for His voice—He’s calling your name.

SELAH:  Read the 23rd Psalm and visualize yourself as an actual sheep in God’s flock.  Write down the things God says to you as a result of doing this exercise.

Closed Doors

“The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them,

for the LORD has told you, ‘You are not to go back that way again.’ ” Deut. 17:16 (NIV)

My favorite aunt gave me a small wood plaque to hang on the wall in my office. On it are written these words, “When God closes a door, He opens a window.” The inference is that God in His wisdom and providence will always provide a “way” for us.  God’s way sometimes involves closed doors.  This week we continue our series, “When God Speaks.”  God speaks volumes when He closes doors.  Ever ask yourself, “What is God saying?”

Closed doors often lead to new opportunities in our lives. Closed doors force us to try new options, meet new people, and exercise spiritual gifts and talents that may never have been used. Joseph faced many closed doors in his life. The first door closed when his brothers sold him into slavery; the second door slam in his face when Potiphar’s had him falsely imprisoned. The final door, he thought, shut tight when the cup bearer forgot him for two years. Though the closed doors were first “used for evil, God used them for good.” (Gen. 50:20)

Closed doors result in the strengthening of two important spiritual muscles–“trusting by faith” and “learning to wait.” In Hebrews 11 we see the “Faith Hall of Fame”, made up of those individuals who trusted God even when the doors appeared closed. (Hebrews 11:4-31) Though the closed doors were first viewed as obstacles, they trusted in God’s promises and waited … even unto death. The results were both rewards and “great faith.”

Closed doors position us to accomplish God’s purpose and plan for kingdom building. The Holy Spirit forbade Paul to preach the word in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). God had a different plan for Paul that would first take the gospel to Macedonia (Acts 16:6-10).  Though this door was first viewed as a detour from proclaiming the gospel, God expanded Paul’s ministry beyond anything he could have imaged; his Epistles would become part of Holy Scripture, read and preached in countries around the world.

In the game show, “Let’s Make a Deal,” contestants choose from “prize doors” that offer either a rich reward or an ugly, disgusting “zonk”. Knowing this, contestants must choose to open the right door and leave others closed. Our omniscient God doesn’t operate like this game show. Whenever God speaks through a closed door, we can be assured it will lead to our good and His glory.

SELAH:  What door has God recently closed in your life?  What was He saying to you in that action?

God Speaks Through Circumstances

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Romans 8:28-29 (NRS)

 

In our culture, it is not unusual for people to greet one another with the inquiry, “How are you?”  In response, a multitude of replies are available but my favorite is, “I doing fairly well under the circumstances.”  This is my opportunity to respond, “Why are you under your circumstances and what are you doing to get back on top?”  Circumstances are conditions or facts that affect a situation.  These can be either positive or negative.  They define a state in which an individual, group, or even a nation may find itself.  This week we will explore how God speaks to us through circumstances.

There are many biblical examples that illustrate how God used circumstances to speak to His people.  Circumstances dictated that Moses would be set adrift in the Nile.  It was there that he would be found by the king’s daughter and adopted into the royal household by the ruling Pharaoh (Ex. 2:1-10). God later spoke to Moses after his 40-year circumstance and re-directed him to deliver Israel from bondage.   In the book of Acts, we find God speaking to the early church by using the political and social circumstances around them.  Jesus had clearly articulated the scope of the church’s ministry:  “and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  While it was within their “comfort zone” to stay in Jerusalem, God spoke through the circumstance of persecution to move the gospel to a larger audience.   Throughout the Bible we find God speaking to people through special favor, through personal loss, or through miraculous deliverance.  God spoke to them through their circumstances.

God still speaks today through circumstances.  He will use conditions and situations from our everyday life to place us in a position to hear His voice.  Does God create circumstances to make us do His will?  No, God has created us as freewill agents and desires that we choose to live within His divine plan. But God will allow circumstances to flow into our life to accomplish His glory and our good (Rom. 8:24).  In addition, to conform us to the image of Christ, God will permit circumstances in our lives that will mature us and grow our faith (1 Pet. 1:5-7).  What may appear at first to be a “stumbling block” may, in actuality, turn out to be a “stepping stone”.  God speaks through closed doors as well as opened doors; through delayed prayers as well as answered ones.

As believers proceed in this Christian walk, we must remember that the intent of our life is to glorify God and to accomplish His purpose on earth (2 Cor. 5:15). That’s why it is important to be intentional in prayer and reading God’s Word especially during difficult and challenging times, regardless of the circumstance (Phil. 4:6-13).

Also read:  Divine Inquiry

As we develop our personal relationship with God, we will understand that He loves us and can be trusted with every aspect of our life. Then circumstances will not overcome us nor will we live “under them” (1 John 4:4).

SELAH:  Think about a time when you were “under your circumstances”.  What was God saying to you?

The Word of the Lord Came

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways.” Heb. 1:1 (NIV)

It’s not unusual for companies to employ individuals to interface with the public to share information about their company and its activities.  Countries appoint ambassadors to communicate their foreign policies and opinions with regard to world events.  In this nation, it is the presidential press secretary who frequently convenes press conferences with the media to communicate key messages from the White House.  Such positions, though not unusual, pale in comparison with a special groups of individuals called by God to speak His Word.  As we continue our teaching series, “When God Speaks”, we focus that unique group, the Old Testament prophets.

The Nation.  The people of Israel had become a nation.  They had been redeemed from slavery in Egypt and given the Law to guide their activities as God’s chosen people (Deut. 7:7-9).  God fully expected them to be committed to a life of obedience to those laws and to honor the “call” He had made on their life.  Unfortunately Israel constantly fell down in their calling.  God’s Law no longer proved effective in shaping Israel and the society in which they lived.

Also Read:  “Why Did God Choose Israel as His Chosen People?”

The Need.    The people’s slackness had grown into forgetfulness (Deut. 8:11-14).  Sometimes the fault was a result of the wrong priorities.  Other times, the people had allowed themselves to be pulled into the culture and worldview of their times, resulting in idolatry and sinful practices.  Even the nation’s religion was corrupted into “non-moral ritualism”—“having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5).

The Notice.  The prophets were men raised up by God to put Israel on notice—they were to return to God or suffer the consequences.  In examination of both the Major and Minor Prophets, God’s message remained consistent and sure:  The Lord is Ruler of all history and He calls all to repentance. The prophets’ pronouncements always included a blend of judgement and hope, reflecting God’s heart and His desire that all would come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9).  If Israel repented and returned, God would extend mercy and receive them to Himself once again.

The prophets did not share in their writings much about how they received their instructions from God.  We simply read:  “Thus says the Lord” or “the Word of the Lord came” (Jer.47:1; Ezek. 17:1; Zech. 8:1).  Came translates the Hebrew verb “to be” meaning “the word of the Lord became a living, present reality.”    In examining the historical books of the Old Testament and other writings from ancient historians, i.e., Josephus, Philo, it is clear that, when God spoke, things happened.

So how does God speaking through the Old Testament prophets relate to us living in the 21st century? My first observation is that for both believers and unbelievers, the view of our current world strongly resembles that expressed in “The Need.”   For believers, God still expects those He has chosen (Ep. 1:4-5) to follow His Word.  It is God’s moral instruction for living; for by it we are both warned and blessed (Ps. 19:11).  Old Testament prophecy provides for believer’s “blessed assurance” that God is still sovereign ruler of all history, including the 21st century.   For the unbeliever, the words of the prophets offer an opportunity for restoration with the God who sees and knows all—in time and in eternity.  For the unbeliever, it’s time to “come and see” Jesus (John 4:29) and accept His offer of salvation.  When God spoke through the prophets, His Word did not return “void” but accomplished all that it was sent to do (Is. 55:11). Even today it is still critical to listen as God speaks through His prophets.

SELAH:  The Old Testament prophets spoke of the salvation we have received.  Read 1 Peter 1:10-12.

God Speaks–Are You Listening?

For He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under his care. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.  Psalm 95:7-8 (NIV)

God speaks.  For many people this is hard to understand and even more difficult for others to believe.  I’m often asked, “How do I know if God spoke to me?”   In response to that question, we will begin a new study series entitled, “When God Speaks.”  As believers, “the people of God’s pasture”, we believe that God does speak to us.  The more appropriate question is, “are we listening?”

Our belief in God’s speaking is sometimes tied to “false narratives” (wrong tapes playing in our head) about Who God is.  Some see God as an indifferent creator looking down on us ready to punish us for doing wrong.  Others see God as a benevolent grandfather patiently waiting to indulge our every need.  Unfortunately both views are incorrect.   Who is God and why does God want to speak to us?

First, God wants to be in relationship (not religion) with us (Isa. 49:15-16).  When we spend time with Him, we begin to understand the love He has for us.  During those intimate moments together, we discover His ways (how He operates in the world) and His paths (how He operates in our individual lives).  (Ps. 25:4-5)

Secondly, God desires that we live free from the bondage of sin (Heb. 2:14-15).  Satan and the world want to keep us in darkness through lies.  These lies result in guilt, shame, and fear.   God, however, wants us to know the truth—His truth concerning our identity (heirs of God and children of light) and our destiny (eternity with Him).  It is this truth that sets us free (John 8:32).

Lastly, God longs for us to walk in the purpose He has ordained for our lives (Jer. 29:11).   We are God’s workmanship (Eph. 2:10) created for “good works” which include service to others.   True joy in the Christian life is found in discovering the plans that God has for our lives.  All things are possible with God (Mar. 10:27).

Although God desires to speak to believers, we have, unfortunately, developed “habits of behavior” that often hinder our ability to hear Him clearly.  As we move through life, we have, metaphorically, “gotten on the wrong BUS”—a bus that frequently takes us away from God and toward the things of the world.    

Busyness robs us of both energy and our ability to hear.  Busyness most often is the result of wrong priorities.  As a rule, we place importance on the things we value.  Hearing from God deserves first priority. It’s hard to hear God when you’re multitasking; He gets caught between our thoughts and His voice becomes “muted”.

Unbelief houses all the lies we hold about ourselves and about God.  We believe that God speaks to others but not us.  We attribute this excuse to “being humble” but in reality we don’t believe that God is (His existence) or God can (His power) or God will (His promises)—so why talk to Him?  There is always a “lie” in unbelief.

Self (sin, too) keep us from hearing from God.  This happens when “self” (versus God) rules our life—self-righteousness, self-esteem, self-sufficiency, self-promotion.  When self is on the “throne of our heart”, God finds no place for Him to sit (except on the outside).  Sin separates us from a holy God.  When sin dominates our life, God won’t talk or listen (Gen. 17:1).  This condition, however, can be corrected (1 John 1:9).

Bob Sorge offers these thoughts concerning hearing God’s in his book, Secret of the Secret Places.

Hearing the voice of God is largely a matter of the will.  We must choose to hear Him.  We must make the choice of setting aside time to listen quietly.  This hearing is a today thing that we do.  Hearing His (God’s) voice is conditional—built upon the condition of quieting out hearts to listen.”

Want to hear God speak?  Begin “today” spending time at least 15 minutes per day reading God’s Word and listening for His voice.  Journal what God tells you!  Make the choice to get off the BUS!

SELAH:    What are the things that interfere with your hearing God speak?

IS GOD SPEAKING IN THE MIDST OF ALL THE SOCIAL UNREST?  YES! READ “DISCOVERING GOD IN THE PSALMS: THE SILENCE OF GOD”