Get into the Word (PoW#23)

Pearl of Wisdom #23

If you get into the Word of God, then the Word of God will get into you!

You will never be a strong or successful Christian unless you get into the Word of God in the Bible. Consider the Bible as your spiritual food!

As you begin to study the Word of God and absorb it’s truths, those truths will begin to shape your life. As you get into the Word, it will begin to get into you as well.

This means that when you need it, the Holy Spirit can bring the Word to your memory. He can bring that Word to life in any situation. The Bible describes the Word of God as a “sword of the Spirit,” and the Spirit can put that “sword” in your hand when you need it.

As you read and study the Bible, the truths you learn will change your mind – how you think. It will shine light on areas you need God’s help with, and it will encourage and strengthen you.

Get into the Word this week, and let that Word shape your life!

Christ is… Enough?

I’ve been thinking about worship songs recently. In particular, their content and origin.

This began several months ago when singing the song “Christ is Enough for me…” It got me thinking… is Christ really enough? Of course He is, but what I mean is – is enough an adequate term to describe the One Who redeemed us?

Perhaps it’s just semantics, and maybe some feel it doesn’t matter all that much. I understand that, and certainly don’t want to come across as overly picky here. But for me at least, Christ isn’t just enough, He is everything – He is so far above enough that it can’t easily be put into words.

Maybe that’s the point – some of these truths can’t easily be put into words and so writing a worship song isn’t as easy as we might think.

I listened to a discussion the other day about this very subject. This particular group were rather critical of certain well known churches and ministries where many famous worship songs originate. They were especially scathing of Hillsong, Jesus Culture and Bethel.

Similar to my point above, they were disecting the song “Wreckless Love.” A quick examination of the definition of “wreckless” will show you that it really doesn’t apply to God. Again, perhaps it’s just semantics and there is no adequate way to describe God in words, and so, we must make do with the limitations of our language.

Likewise, we often sing about being “desperate for you,” when referring to God. The word desperate comes from the same word as “despair,” and again is not a suitable term for our relation to God.

So, what am I getting at?

Firstly, I think we should be very careful about the words we use, and sing. Words are extremely powerful and important, and I believe have a great impact on us. Many do not respect the power of our words, and yet the Bible teaches very clearly that words have power.

God made the world with His words, and so words can be creative. They can also be destructive too. I’m sure we can all remember a time when someone else’s words cut us deeply, and we still feel those wounds today.

James, in his letter, said this:

Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.

James 3:4-9 (ESV)

Some very strong words about the power of the tongue.

The point I am making is that the words we sing do matter. And therefore we should choose them carefully.

So what ought we to consider when choosing appropriate worship songs?

Theology

For some it will seem obvious, and for others it may not be something you’ve thought about very much.

The theology of songs matter. Put simply, what we are singing must be biblical and accurate.

The most important thing about a worship song is not a catchy tune, but instead a good sound theology.

For example, a song that pleads with God to forgive us over and over is not good theology. Of course we must seek forgiveness, but once received from God through Christ, we no longer need to plead over and over again.

Think of some of your favourite worship songs, and ask yourself if they are biblical. It may be that you’ve never thought about it before, but we live in a time now where just because someone is singing about God, does not mean it is biblically sound.

Sadly, there are those writing worship songs who do not have a strong grasp of the Bible.

Similarly, there are churches and ministries who have questionable theology and the music coming from them mirror that theology. As mentioned above, there are those who criticise Hillsong and Jesus Culture, and it’s not my intention to comment on that here. But let’s say you did not agree with their stance on certain doctrines. It may be that some of their music reflects those doctrines.

Just be sure of what you believe the Bible says, and try to ensure your music reflects those biblical beliefs.

Romance

Worship is an expression of love – no doubt. It is right for us to love our God and Father. But worship is not romance.

Some songs you hear are more akin to love songs than worship songs. Is that wrong?

We need to be a little careful in this space I believe. While the Bible does use romantic imagery between God and His people, such as the church being the “Bride of Christ,” we need to be clear what we mean by “love.”

We love God, and He loves us. No arguments here. However, it is not accurate to describe this as a romantic kind of love. I grow concerned when I hear certain songs which seem to portray our relationship with God as a romantic one.

Repetition

I once heard someone describe modern worship songs as “7-11” songs – meaning the same seven words repeated eleven times. This was a tongue-in-cheek comment, but has a ring of truth about it.

Are you familiar with the song “Set a Fire” by Jesus Culture? I was humming it the other day and wondering not just about its theology, but also the constant repetition.

The song asks for “more of God,” over and over again. This can be taken two ways. Firstly, I cannot see how God can give us any more than He already has. He gave His Only Son to us that whoever believes in Him will not perish (John 3:16). He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:3). He has given us His Spirit to dwell in us, His forgiveness, His justification, His redemption, He has promised never to leave us nor forsake us, and on and on and on.

Given all of that, can we really ask for “more of God?”

I appreciate that if you accept what I’ve said, then perhaps the song is really asking for God to help us receive more fully the things God has already done. In that sense, I have no issue.

The constant repetition concerns me though. I know I’ve mentioned “Set a Fire,” but don’t want to single that out. There are other similar songs too.

Most songs have a repetition in them, such as a chorus or repeated verse – that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m referring to those songs which repeat short phrases over and over again, in a melodic way.

There is a danger here – either willingly or unwittingly – to wander into Eastern practices.

Hinduism and Buddhism use mantras to “concentrate the mind for meditation.” A mantra is a phrase which is repeated over and over. Rather than increase concentration, it actually dulls the mind.

Singing the same phrase over and over, even if a good one, can have the same effect. Add to that the loud music and flashing lights that often accompanies large worship gatherings now, and we can open ourselves up to risk.

Jesus told us to avoid repetition in prayer:

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

Matthew 6:7 (KJV)

Entertainment or worship?

Worship is not entertainment.

As mentioned above, some worship services are more like concerts now. I have no problem with worship being modernised, or the use of instruments, lights and AV, as long as it enhances worship.

Worship can be fun, and at times it absolutely should be! But worship can also be hard. It also can require sacrifice on our part. King David said that he would not give to God that which cost him nothing. Worship can sometimes be costly to us also.

Worship is not about making us feel better, nor about us having a great time. It is not about us at all.

I’m not trying to spoil your fun, nor do I want you to stand motionless in worship singing to a church organ. I just want to highlight the dangers of forgetting what we are there to do.

Give it some thought

There are many songs from many ministries, and we don’t always know where they come from. You could read the above and start crossing out lots of songs, even your favourites perhaps.

The point of this post was not to ruin your favourite worship songs. I just want you to give it some thought.

What we sing does indeed matter. How we worship does matter too. If you are being handed earplugs on the way in, then you have to wonder if worship is the primary focus.

We were made to worship God. Let’s do so appropriately!

From an Apostle to the Saints

Ephesians

My recent wanderings through the sovereignty of God led me to study the book of Ephesians in my quiet time. I am not certain if this will turn into a series, but it is such a rich letter with so much to explore that I’ll no doubt write a few posts about it.

In fact, in my study time, I’m still in chapter 1, which has more than enough to keep me occupied!

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 1:1-2 (ESV)

Like any letter, Paul begins by introducing himself. We often skip over these opening verses to get to the “meat” of the letter, but by doing so, miss out on important things.

Paul not only gives his name, but his role as well. “Paul, an apostle…”

An apostle is simply “one whom is sent,” but in the church context it is one of the founders of the church – often a church planter or one who has seen the Risen Lord.  The role of apostle was mentioned as one of the five-fold ministry gift or positions, which we will later encounter in Ephesians.

While “role” is one word, another is calling. Paul is not just some self-appointed saint, but is an “apostle by the will of God.” I’ve thought a lot lately about the will of God, and we will see in this first chapter of Ephesians that it comes up time and again. We cannot escape or resist God’s will.

We are sometimes a bit obsessed with our calling. We ask people, “What is your ministry?” or “What is God calling you to do?” While these questions have their place, I think sometimes we spend our lives searching for some grand call on our lives instead of getting on with the business of life.

Am I saying that calling is not important? Certainly not. I believe all Christians have a calling and should live it out as best we can. For many, if not all of us, we can summarise our calling as follows: we should glorify God in our life right where we are.

Certainly we should be listening to God for His direction, and this also should come from our relationship with Him. God is not a stone idol we pray to with nothing in return. Our prayer life should be two-way, and too many of us are talking when we should be listening.

It can be hard to achieve of course (regular and constant communication with God), but I believe life is to be lived with Him. Set times of extended prayer are definitely important, but so are moments of prayer throughout the day. Living like this, we can serve God wherever we are and whatever we are doing.

So we see this letter is from Paul, but to whom is it written?

The saints at Ephesus

It may be that this letter was in reality a circular which was shared among several churches. Some manuscripts omit the words “at Ephesus” and the lack of personal greetings suggest this. The letter was likely written around AD 60 while Paul was imprisoned in Rome. Some scholars dispute the date, believing it to have been between AD 80-100, and also that Paul was the author at all.

It is interesting to me that the New Testament epistles are always written to “saints,” “holy people,” or “consecrated ones.” We never see a letter written to the “sinners in Ephesus,” or the “heathen in Rome…”

This is an important point because I often feel we misunderstand our identity.

We sin, no argument from me, and we did so both before and after we gave our lives to Christ. Sin is a critical issue for the world at large, and is indeed the whole point of Christ’s coming.

Some churches focus too much on sin, and too little on the completed work of Christ. Other churches focus too little on sin, and fail to instruct their people on the dangers of committing “sins” and the overall effect of “sin” on the world.

Christ is the cure for sin. If we continue to think of ourselves as “sinners” after the work of the cross, then we are in danger of making that work of little effect. What do sinners do? They sin. And what ought we not to do in our lives? Same answer.

Rather, our identity (in Christ) is not as an old sinner saved by grace, but rather as an imperfect saint. When we give our lives to Jesus, God puts a new heart inside of us. That is the born again experience. That new birth is something which happens inside of us (in our spirits, not our internal organs). From that time on, we are re-training our mind, will and emotions (sometimes called “the flesh” or “sinful nature”) to come into line with what God has done in our spirits.

If you are still just a “sinner” then what has the cross achieved for you?

I appreciate this is partly down to semantics, and may not seem a point worth labouring, but I think it helps in our reading of the rest of this chapter. Paul emphasises what is ours in Christ, and that must begin by us accepting we are transformed in Him.

As we work through chapter one, I will point out some of the things that belong to us in Christ. Not things we have earned, but rather things which were bestowed upon us because of God’s great grace.

Grace is where Paul begins his letter, and it’s where I’m going to draw this post to a close. He wishes the saints both grace and peace from God. A deeply meaningful greeting and opening to his epistle.

Likewise, I pray God’s grace and peace on you this week.

Humble Pie (PoW#21)

Pearl of Wisdom #21

Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, rather it is thinking of yourself less.

Humility isn’t exactly something we celebrate much in our culture. When we look to celebrities, we offer see arrogance, selfishness and pride.

Many of us misunderstand what true humility is. We believe that a humble person is someone who beats themselves up constantly, who treads themselves down and thinks very little of themselves.

That is not biblical humility.

Humility is not about mistreating ourselves, instead it’s about moving ourselves out of the way and keeping God in His proper place in our lives.

A humble person is someone who is totally reliant on Jesus. They don’t think of themselves more or less than they ought, and instead keep their minds on Christ.

Pride can be seen in arrogance of course, but it can also be seen in self-loathing. Pride is simply putting the emphasis on “us” rather than God.

Try to be humble this week. Don’t loathe yourself, love Jesus!

Faith and Unbelief

I want to draw this mini series on healing to a close by thinking about a passage from Matthew 17. There is, of course, much more to say about the subject of healing and this was not meant to be an exhaustive study.

One of the major questions people have is, “Why was I not healed when I asked?” Great question! Some will say that it is not always God’s will to heal, in which case, that is one possible answer. I personally don’t hold that view, but understand I am perhaps in the minority.

There are some things we can learn from Matthew 17, which says:

As they approached the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, knelt down in front of him, 15 and said, “Sir, have mercy on my son, because he is an epileptic and suffers terribly. Often he falls into fire and often into water. 16 I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn’t heal him.”

17 Jesus replied, “You unbelieving and perverted generation! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring him here to me!” 18 Then Jesus rebuked the demon and it came out of him, and the boy was healed that very hour.

19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

20 He told them, “Because of your lack of faith. I tell all of you with certainty, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you. 21 But this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.”

Matthew 17:14-21 (ISV)

These events happen shortly after the Transfiguration of Jesus. He and the chosen disciples returned from the mountaintop to the unfolding scene described above.

A man approaches Jesus, seeking healing for his son who is described as an epileptic. He had first gone to the disciples, and the text clearly states that they (the disciples) were not able to heal the boy.

Before we dig into this, look at Jesus’ reaction… was He pleased by this turn of events? Clearly not! In fact, He had some rather strong words to say about it.

Jesus replied, “You unbelieving and perverted generation! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring him here to me!”

Matthew 17:17 (ISV)

Jesus was clearly not impressed with this situation. He did not react with comforting words, or reassure the disciples that it was not their fault. Instead, He rebukes them! Obviously Jesus was here expecting them to be able to minister to this young boy. If not, He would have said so – “Don’t worry lads, this was too difficult for you to achieve. I’ll have to do it myself.” No, instead He criticises them for their unbelief.

Jesus healed the boy immediately. Don’t miss that fact. He clearly wanted this person well, and delivered him from this sickness.

Verse 19 is important. The disciples ask a similar question to what we often ask, “Why couldn’t we heal him?” Or rather, “Why didn’t it work when I prayed?”

The very fact that they asked this question shows that they expected him to recover from this sickness. If they didn’t expect that, then they would have just moved on. It also shows that they had prayed for and healed others, but for some reason this time it had not worked.

What is Jesus’ answer?

He told them, “Because of your lack of faith. I tell all of you with certainty, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you. 21 But this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.”

Matthew 17:20-21 (ISV)

Let’s read these same verses in other translations so we get a proper picture.

The NIV says:

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Matthew 17:20-21 (NIV)

The ESV says:

He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Matthew 17:20-21 (ESV)

And the KJV says:

And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

21 Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

Matthew 17:20-21 (KJV)

So, put simply, Jesus says you couldn’t heal this boy because of “something”. This “something” is translated slightly differently in the verses above. I think the differences are critical to understanding what Jesus was saying.

The “something” is:

  • Little faith
  • Lack of faith
  • Unbelief

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Little Faith

If this is correctly translated, then I struggle to understand this verse. Jesus says, you couldn’t do it because of your “little faith” and then says, “You only need little faith to move a mountain.” This is an apparent contradiction. On one hand, little faith is not enough and the other it can move mountains.

Lack of faith

This, if correct, makes more sense to me. Jesus says they lacked faith to heal, but points out they only need faith the size of a mustard seed to perform a miracle.

The issue I have with this is reflected in some of the comments I received in earlier blog posts on this subject.

An individual seeks prayer for healing, does not immediately receive it and is then told they “lack faith” for healing. They come away feeling condemned, unworthy and offended. It leaves them in a worse state than they were before.

Let me say this categorically. If you seek prayer for healing, and the individual or church tells you that you lack faith for it, they are letting you down and you should walk away. Such a person is not ministering to you, but judging you. They lack compassion and beyond that, I think they lack understanding of what the Bible teaches.

Am I saying you don’t need faith to be healed? Of course not, clearly having no faith in healing would prevent healing, but that is not the situation above. When a faithful believer seeks healing, they do so “in faith”. If they lacked faith, they would not come forward to ask for prayer in the first place! Something else is happening here.

Unbelief

The KJV translates this as “unbelief” rather than “little” or “lack” of “faith”.

In the Greek, we see that “unbelief” is the word – apistia – and “faith” used here as in “mustard seed sized faith” is – pistis. They are two different words – although clearly connected. This leads me to conclude that actually the KJV is probably the more accurate translation here, and even that “unbelief” is something different to little or no faith.

Many suggest that faith and unbelief are somehow mutually exclusive. If you have faith, then you have no unbelief, and vice versa. I don’t believe this to be true however, and don’t take “unbelief” to mean the same thing as “disbelief”.

In Mark 9, a man approaches Jesus seeking help. Jesus tells him not to doubt, and to only believe.

And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

Mark 9:24 (KJV)

 

Jesus did not correct this man, saying, “You’ve got it all wrong! You can’t have belief and unbelief at the same time!” So it seems possible to me that we can both believe and “unbelieve” at the same time. That, in my mind, is distinct from “believing” and “disbelieving”, which clearly cannot be done at the same time.

I think that this man believed, but that he also had unbelief. We might use the word “doubt” instead.

It is entirely possible that we should have faith in God, and yet have doubts at the same time. We don’t question God’s existence, or our salvation, but perhaps we do have doubts about God’s will to heal, or our ability to receive. Many feel unworthy and so have faith that God heals, but doubt God heals them.

I believe that a sufficient amount of doubt can hinder our faith. So how do we deal with it?

We lack space here to truly deal with the matter at hand, but here are a few ideas of mine.

Focus on the right things

Our minds generally guide the direction of our lives. IF our minds are focused on the wrong things, then that can certainly increase our doubts. If we focus on the problem, rather than the solution, which is Christ, then we cannot help but have doubts.

If you are seeking healing, are you spending time with Jesus and understanding what His Word says about the subject? Or are you googling the symptoms you have and telling everyone how terrible you feel? Don’t misunderstand, i’m not saying you cannot talk about your problems or gain understanding of things through research, but we must try to do these things in a positive way.

Paul says in Colossi ans 3 that we must keep our minds set on the “higher things” that is, the things that are above and not on the things that are below. I’m not talking about “positive mental attitude” here, as that alone saves no one. Rather, I’m saying we should train our minds to focus on the things of God – His promises – instead of the garbage this world offers.

And finally…

What I have said over the last few posts is by no means definitive evidence of guaranteed healing. Nor was that my intention. The subject of healing is more complex than we have had time to really get to grips with .

Some of you will disagree with much of what I have said, and that’s ok. I, like all of us, am still growing and learning. If nothing else, then I hope that what you have read has given you pause for thought. If you disagree, then that’s fine, but I have tried to evidence my points from the Bible and offer alternatives to the traditional views.

I state simply that I believe God wants His people to be well. The healthier we are, the better we can serve Him. The longer our lives are, the more opportunity we have to share our faith with others. That’s not to say anyone who is sick cannot do these things, but what more could we do if we were not hampered by ill-health.

If nothing else, then please pray about these things and seek the Lord for yourself. Pray for me also, not only that I would have a deeper understand of God and His Word, but that I too may be in good health. Thank you.

Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh

I remember speaking to a man in church once who was telling me about an illness he had suffered with for many years. He believed in healing, and had even experienced a miracle in the past. For this particular illness however, he told me that it was his “thorn in the flesh.” Meaning God would not remove it from him.

I want to explore this today, and think about the interpretation of Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Many have cited it as evidence for God not always healing the sick, or rather not always wanting to.

Let’s explore the text together and see what we can find out.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV)

Why did Paul have a “thorn”?

Before we investigate what this thorn might have been, let us consider why Paul was given such a thorn in the first place. What did Paul say?

To keep me from becoming conceited because of the exceptional nature of these revelations…

2 Corinthians 12:7a (ISV)

So we see that Paul’s thorn came to him to keep him grounded. He had received such deep revelations of God, that he needed some kind of anchor to humility. Imagine having the kind of revelation needed to write the vast majority of the New Testament – to be the person who noted down the very Word of God for the church! Imagine if that was you… would you stay humble?

Earlier on in chapter 12 of 2 Corinthians, Paul discussed an individual who was caught up to heaven. A man who actually visited heaven – whether in the body or out of it, not even the man knew. It turned out that this “man” was in fact Paul himself. So not only was he receiving such incredible revelation of God’s will and purpose, he also visited heaven! Astonishing!

We really need to understand this before we claim a “thorn” of our own. Few, if any, of us can claim to have received the depth of revelation that Paul did. We ought to be very careful about claiming the same limitations that Paul faced, without the responsibility that went along with it.

Who’s messenger was it?

It is also important to understand the source of this thorn. The text clearly states that this was a “messenger of Satan.” This thorn, whatever it was, came from the enemy. The text itself does not say that God sent the thorn, although of course you can read such an implication from it. At least, many will say God allowed this “messenger of Satan” if He did not send it Himself.

I make this point because we must not read what we think the Bible say, but rather what it actually says. Many teach and accept that God gave Paul a physical thorn, and thus in some circumstances, God will not heal. But it is difficult to obtain such an understanding from these verses – in my view at least.

The text does not clearly say if God did or did not “send” or “allow” this thorn, but it does say definitively that it was a “messenger of Satan.” Nothing good comes from the enemy, and we must understand he is a very real adversary who can wreak havoc in our lives if we allow him.

That is not to say that God cannot use hardships or difficulties to bring about His will or purpose in our lives, of course, He can. I would argue that He would not choose to do so if He had an alternative. I can learn that punching the wall really hurts and that I should not do it, but I can also learn that by instruction.

So then, what exactly was this “thorn”?

In the flesh

Many say that as Paul’s thorn was “in the flesh” that it was clearly a physical ailment. There can be no question surely, that this was anything other than sickness of the body therefore. In fact, some go as far as to say that this “thorn” was Paul’s eye condition. I discussed Paul’s sight last week, and so don’t necessarily believe that Paul even had an eye condition, let alone one God refused to heal. It seems more likely to me that the damage to Paul’s eyes was as a result of his stoning at Antioch, rather than an illness.

But are there any alternative views?

Think of this example. If I said to you that “work is a real pain in the neck at the moment.” How would you interpret that? Would you think I was saying that I had injured my neck in an accident at work? No, of course not! You would understand that “pain in the neck” is just a turn of phrase meaning “annoyance” or “frustration”.

Let’s say I’d written this to you in a letter, and someone was reading it 2,000 years into the future. If the phrase “pain in the neck” was no longer in common use, then the reader might struggle to understand my meaning.

This, in my opinion at least, is what is happening with Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”.

How can I evidence that? Can the phrase be found elsewhere in the Bible, and how is it interpreted?

Here is a verse from Numbers 33:

But if you fail to drive out the inhabitants of the land before you, their survivors will become irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, to prick your sides and afflict you in the very land in which you’ll be living.

Numbers 33:55 (ISV)

This verse is clear, and the meaning apparent. If you don’t drive out the nations before you, then they will become an irritant and “thorns in your sides.” We all understand this is not literal – the enemy nations would not turn into physical thorns and stick in the sides of the Israeli people! Instead, we understand this is a turn of phrase, and one Paul would have been familiar with.

Similarly, in Joshua 23, we read:

know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the Lord your God has given you.

Joshua 23:13 (ISV)

Again we see here an example of the same sort of phrase. A “Thorn in the flesh”, be it eyes or sides, is clearly meant to indicate an irritation or vexation.

So the thorn was…?

As I say above, it was clearly an irritation or frustration of some kind. The text doesn’t give much more detail than that, although it is my personal opinion that this thorn was in fact persecution.

Persecution would fit the bill because it is clear Paul was persecuted pretty much everywhere he went. He was arrested, whipped and imprisoned multiple times and nou doubt, as faithful as he was, was something hard to endure over and over again.

Paul did ask God to remove the thorn from him – three times in fact, and yet God did not. Why? Firstly, every believer (Paul included) was promised that while they were in the world, that they would have trouble (John 16:33). We should take heart knowing that Jesus overcame the world and its troubles.

Secondly, which is an extension to the first, is that God did not promise to remove persecution from us. As much as we would like it, I see no case in the Bible to suggest that we can simply pray persecution away – even with Paul’s faith and experience.

What does this have to do with the subject of healing?

In short, very little in my view. If it is your belief that Paul’s thorn was a physical illness, then I hope what I have said here at least gives you an alternative to consider.

If what I have said is correct, then actually Paul’s thorn has nothing to do with the ministry of healing and nor should it be used as a reason for “God not healing someone.”

Whatever irritations or “thorns” you are facing this week, I pray that they would be removed. And if not, like Paul, then I believe God’s grace is sufficient. Spend time drawing on that grace and being with God in whatever circumstances you find yourselves.

Is it God’s Will to Heal?

In my recent post – “Healing is in the Word” – I set out some of my beliefs about healing. I did not, in that post, try to explain my views with backing from the Bible. I want to try to do that over the next few posts.

As I said last time, I know some of you will not agree with my position. That’s ok. Please give me the grace to be wrong if I am. I hope to show you why I believe what I do, and if nothing else, get you to think about what you believe.

As a starting point, we must ask if it is God’s will to heal today.

I am willing

In the first chapter of Mark, we read the following account. This account is also mirrored in Matthew’s Gospel in chapter 8.

Then a leper came to Jesus and began pleading with him. He fell on his knees and told him, “If you want to, you can make me clean.”

41 Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand, touched him, and told him, “I do want to. Be made clean!” 42 Instantly the leprosy left him, and he was clean.

Mark 1:40-42 (ISV)

A leper comes to Jesus seeking healing. He asks essentially what we are asking today – is it your will to heal? He does not question Jesus’ ability – in fact, that is assumed – “you can make me clean” but asks if He is willing. Before healing the man, Jesus corrects his thinking by confirming that indeed, “I am willing”.

It is never a good thing to take a single verse and make a doctrine out of it. We must interpret God’s Word in the light of other Scripture, not in the light of our experience or our pre-existing beliefs. My belief is that it is God’s will to heal, and I’ve used the above to demonstrate that. However, it could be that Jesus was speaking specifically to this man alone, and we cannot apply it to ourselves.

Are there other Scriptures we can look to?

I want you to be in health

3 John 2 says:

Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.

3 John 2 (ESV)

John, speaking by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes that it is his will for the recipient of his third letter (Gaius) to not only prosper, but be in good health. Again, it could be that this only applies to the addressee, but it is at least another example.

Does it refer to physical health?

The word “prosper” here may make us think of wealth. While that is certainly connected to material wealth, money or possessions alone do not make us “prosperous”. How prosperous is a billionaire whose marriage is breaking down, or whose children are estranged or who has a terminal illness? Wealth alone does not make one prosperous.

The word “health” here is the Greek word – hygiaino. This means “sound,” “well,” or “whole.” We might recognise the phrase to be “safe and sound,” or “safe and well.” This word conveys that same meaning. It can be used in the sense of “sound” or “wholesome” teaching or doctrine, but is used in Luke 7:10 to refer to the healing of the sick.

And they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick.

Luke 7:10 (KJV)

John says “that you would prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers.” This “health” he refers to cannot therefore be related to the “soul”. The “even as” part suggests that is a given, and he infers that he wants health and prosperity in other respects as well as the soul. Physical health it may well be therefore.

Gifts of healing

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul lists a number of spiritual gifts – special endowments of the Holy Spirit given to the church for the benefit of the church.

Verse 9 says:

…to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit

1 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV, emphasis added)

So we see that some of the gifts given to the church by the Holy Spirit are for healing. And not just one “gift” but “gifts” – plural – of healing.

It stands to reason that if God did not want us well, then He would not have provided gifts of healing to us.

Elders should pray for the sick

In his letter, James writes:

Is anyone among you sick? He must call for the elders (spiritual leaders) of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer of faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

James 5:14-15 (Amp)

So if we are sick, we are instructed to seek the elders or leaders of the church to come and to pray for us. Again, why would we do this if it was not God’s will to make us healthy?

James not only instructs us to seek healing and prayer support from the church leaders, but in verse 15 says that “the prayer of faith will restore the one who is sick.” It is not an empty prayer, but one of power. James expected there to be results of this prayer for healing. Do we expect the same thing?

Sadly, when we pray for healing, we only “hope” it will work, and if honest, we have little expectation that it actually will.

Why? Because we are not convinced it actually is God’s will to heal. 

One of the benefits of believing

In my recent series, “All the Benefits of Believing,” I spent a good many weeks teaching on Psalm 103 verse by verse.

Verse 3 tells us that one of the many benefits to believing is:

who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,

Psalm 103:3 (ESV, emphasis added)

Not some of our diseases, but all of them. And the word translated as “diseases” there is the Hebrew word – tachaluw – and it means… well, diseases!

You can read more in the blog post called Trusting the Unseen.

Other Psalms also speak of the Lord healing His people. Psalm 107:20 which i discussed last week, says God send forth His word and heals them. Also, Psalm 91:9-10 says that for those who belong to the Lord, no plague will come near their tent.

Jesus’ Ministry

Jesus spent much of His ministry on Earth healing the sick who were brought to Him. There were several occasions when every single person brought to Christ was healed of whatever ailment they were afflicted with. He never turned anyone away and there were even times when just grasping the hem of His cloak was enough to release healing virtue.

It may be one thing for Jesus to go about healing people, but what about us?

Firstly, if Jesus did it, then we must understand that it was His will, and subsequently His Father’s will to heal people.

Secondly, Jesus gave that same authority to His disciples. In Matthew 10, we read:

Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority andpower over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.

Matthew 10:1 (Amp)

Jesus bestowed His authority and power to heal the sick to His disciples. And they then went throughout the towns of Israel healing in the name of Jesus.

But does this apply to us? On the face of it, Jesus is clearly speaking here to the twelve disciples. The word “twelve” is present, and unless you are over 2,000 years old and a close personal friend of Jesus – you and I are not one of them.

I could not argue with this view if Matthew 10 closed there. Clearly, much of what Jesus goes on to tell His disciples is meant for them and then alone. But Jesus also widens His teaching, talking of imprisonment, beating and that ultimately they would not reach all of the towns of Israel before He returns. Returns? He had not yet left at this point! It’s clear therefore that Jesus was referring to times beyond the twelve apostles alone.

The Great Commission

I want to close this post by thinking about the Great Commission. Most of us think of the book of Matthew when we hear this phrase, and Jesus lasting command to His people to share the Gospel and make disciples of all they can.

Mark also records the Great Commission in his Gospel, and it can be found in Mark 16:

Then he told them, “As you go into the entire world, proclaim the gospel to everyone. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever doesn’t believe will be condemned. 17 These are the signs that will accompany those who believe: In my name they’ll drive out demons. they’ll speak in new languages, 18 and they’ll pick up snakes with their hands. Even if they drink any deadly poison, it won’t hurt them, and they’ll place their hands on the sick, and they’ll recover.

Mark 16:15-18 (ISV, emphasis added)

Most churches I’ve been involved in take the preaching of the Gospel very seriously – and rightly so. Very few seem to take the responsibility for laying hands and the sick, and seeing them recover.

Concluding thoughts

What I have said here is by no means a definitive argument. Many of you will rightly point out that there are other Scriptures not mentioned here which may paint a different view. I agree completely. I hope, next time, to select some of those Scriptures and examine them to see what we can learn from them.

Equally though, what I have mentioned above is just a handful of places in the Bible that suggest it is indeed God’s will to heal. I stop this post here, not because I run out of Scriptures, but because it is already long enough.

I hope that as you read these thoughts and the accompanying Scriptures, that you will consider your own position. Do I believe in healing? Do I believe it is God’s will to heal? Do I base by belief on a whole view of the Bible, or on my own experiences?

Before I close, I want to add that just because it is God’s will to heal, it does not mean it happens in every case. I am not ignorant, and completely understand that there are times when we pray or lay hands, and for some reason healing does not come. It is a tragedy when that happens, and it has happened to me too.

It does not mean that God chose not to heal that individual. It may surprise you to learn that God does not always get what He wants. But that’s a topic for another day.

For now, pray about this subject. Consider the verses here and others you know of. Seek the Lord in this matter and ask Him, “Is it your will to heal Father?”

Pearl of Wisdom #5

If you know how to worry, then you also know how to meditate.

The word “meditation” can conjure up a mixture of images in our minds these days. For many, it refers to something like Buddist meditation, or some other form of this “spiritual” or “religious” practice.

For the Christian however, meditation means something quite different. Instead of focussing on ourselves, we focus on God and His Word. Meditation simply means to chew over or mull the meaning of a particular Scripture – the idea being to get every bit of goodness we can from it. It also enables the Word to get rooted deep down inside of us.

If you know how to worry, then you know how to meditate. Worrying is just negative meditation. Rolling a problem around your mind over and over. But instead of focussing on the problem, why not focus on something positive? Take a relevant Scripture and mull it over all day long. Just see what benefits you get from it. If nothing else, your mind will be on something useful.

Don’t worry, meditate!

Pearl of Wisdom #1

From time to time, I’m going to put up a short post sharing a pearl or two of wisdom. I hope you find it useful!

If you are spending your time wondering what others think of you, “Do they like me?” “What do they think?” “What will they say?” – the truth is, they aren’t thinking about you at all… They are wondering what you think of them.

We spend a lot of time worried about what others think of us. Many times, the fear of what others think leads to our action or inaction. If only we realised that they are rarely thinking of us at all, but spending their own time and energy worrying about what you and others think of them.

We cannot lead our lives trying to make everyone else happy. If our decisions are driven by what others think, then we will never make a decision for ourselves. We should consider the counsel of others of course, but when we try to please people instead of God, we end up miserable.

What have you agreed to lately that you wished you hadn’t? If it was just to please someone else, then perhaps it’s worth reconsidering.

Be blessed!

Forget Me Not

All the Benefits of Believing (ATBOB) #2

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,

Psalm 103:2 (ESV)

 

We continue our series on “All the Benefits of Believing” with the second verse of this great Psalm. And it’s a cracker…!

This verse repeats the phrase found in verse one – Bless the Lord, O my soul! I discussed before that this encourages us to stir ourselves up to praise God – even in times when that might be difficult. In such times, we must speak to ourselves – our own souls – and remind ourselves of the many reasons to worship the Lord. No matter how bad things get in this life, there are always more reasons to praise.

If you are reading this now, then you must have Internet access – a blessing if used correctly! But more than that, you probably have eyes to read it. Look around you, wherever you are, and there are likely many reasons to be thankful. Whether it is lighting, heat, electricity, a roof, food or drink or many other physical things. Beyond that, if you are interested in this subject, then you either know God or are seeking Him. So the reasons to praise God are already mounting up.

Our petition should not outweigh our praise!

This verse instructs us not to forget all of God’s benefits, and we see this little word – all – once again.

Remembering – forgetting not – the benefits of the Lord is a powerful thing to do. What our mind dwells on has a huge impact on our lives. The fruit of your life today depends greatly on the thoughts you sowed yesterday. Joyce Meyer says, “Where the mind goes, the man follows.”

For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…

Proverbs 23:7a (KJV)

Our minds are incredibly powerful, and everything we perceive in life goes through the “filter” of our inner thought life. If that filter is clogged or damaged, then our perception could be off. For instance, if someone doesn’t return your call straightaway, it could be that they are angry with you and that you have offended them in some way. Or, it could simply be that they are busy right now.

How we choose to use our minds impacts our life

We can use our minds in many different ways. This verse is instructing us about how we use our memory.

When you think back, what key events or situations stand out in your memory? Are they generally positive or negative? It’s probably easier to recall in vivid details the times when you have been hurt or when some tragedy befell you. Perhaps it’s in our nature to dwell on the bad, rather than the good, but it is a choice.

Ultimately, you can choose what you think about and how you use your memory.

There are times when we need to examine a bad thing that happened to us, and work through it. I’m thinking of those who experienced some kind of trauma. I’m not suggesting you simply bury those experiences and don’t deal with them in the proper way.

However, if we spend our time recalling only the bad things that have happened to us, then our minds – and subsequently our lives – will not be in a good place.

For even though they knew God [as the Creator], they did not honor Him as God or give thanks [for His wondrous creation]. On the contrary, they became worthless in their thinking [godless, with pointless reasonings, and silly speculations], and their foolish heart was darkened.

Romans 1:21 (AMP)

Here Paul explains how some fall away from the Christian faith. Even though they knew God as Creator, they didn’t honour Him as such. Paul points out that they stopped giving thanks and that their thinking became worthless.

We must not allow our thoughts to become worthless. We must continue to give thanks always. We must not forget all the many reasons to worship God.

What is your thought life like? Perhaps you’ve never thought about it! Try to memorise this verse from Psalm 103 (above) and if you find yourself not being thankful, complaining or dwelling on negatives, then speak to yourself. Don’t allow yourself to forget the benefits of God. Think back over your relationship with Him, and the times He has come through for you.

Your memory is extremely powerful – don’t waste it!