LISTENING TO THE LORD
How Tuned Are You?
A frequent complaint I receive from believers is this: "Brother, I spend hours and hours listening to the Lord in prayer but I rarely hear anything. Why?"
"My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore" (Psalm 131, NIV).
There can, of course, be many reasons so I don't wish to oversimplify but one problem that surfaces again and again is the attempt by many Christians to become what I will call super-spiritual. The effects of this are only too obvious in the remarks I often hear. "Oh, Bother so-and-so is so spiritual," or, "Sister so-and-so is such a spiritual person." The result is that different categories of person arise in the Church -- the "spiritual" and the "unspiritual". And it is taken for granted that the "unspiritual" go to the "spiritual" for guidance and help.
There is, unfortunately, a terrible idolatry behind this phenomenon, and is what I call the sin of guru-worship. "Guru-worship?!" you might exclaim, "but that's only in Hinduism and the New Age movement!" Alas, it is not. The sin of guru-worship is as evident in Christianity (where is it abnormal) as it is in the heathen religions (where it is "normal" and even expected).
The sin of "guru-worship" or of trying to make oneself, or others, "super-spiritual" is the sin of elevating oneself above other people and the avoiding of looking at who we really are. In oriental religions like Hinduism and the Western equivalent of the New Age, the Guru is the "super-spiritual" teacher, the one through whom one can come to God more quickly than by going to God directly. He is, in a very real way, a "saviour" for the disciple who comes to eventually be totally dependent on his guru.
The same is true in much of Christendom where ordinary, "unspiritual" folk seek out "super-spiritual" ministers for guidance, eventually developing an unnatural dependence on them.
Because we have taken Christ's call to become perfect we often try to become what we are not by our own efforts. One of the greatest illusions is that a man, or woman, begins to think he is "super-spiritual" because he sees visions, has prophetic dreams, or hears the voice of God. Before long such a person, seeing that such is not common amongst other Christians, begins to believe he is "apart" from other Christians on a "higher plane" to them. And other Christians, because they do not have these mystical experiences, begin to look upon the "super-spiritual" Christian as he sees himself. And idolatry and born.
An even greater problem, perhaps, is that most Christians cannot discern between "super-spirituality" (the guru-complex) and what is genuine Christian mysticism. The guru-complex has, as its core, the need to be admired and worshipped by others. Christian mysticism has, by contrast, only one purpose: to point others to Christ. And the two can only be discerned by the Holy Spirit.
Fact 1: A person is not "more spiritual" because he has a mystical experience. We are, according to the Bible, spiritual only in the proportion of fruit of the Spirit that is in our lives:
Notice that a fruit of the Spirit is not seeing visions, having prophetic dreams, or other mystical experiences. These are GIFTS of the Spirit, and a gift is unmerited. But a FRUIT is the result of hard labour. A gift can be used for good or evil: to have godly revelations or "revelations" given by the devil or the flesh. But a fruit is the result of a long labour along a certain path. The one path -- the Way of Christ -- leads to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Note that this is one fruit, not many. You can't, for instance, have love and impatience, or gentleness and faithlessness. There is one Gospel Fruit and it has all of the descriptions given by Paul to the Galatians.
"But the fruit of the Spirit is LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, FAITHFULNESS, GENTLENESS and SELF-CONTROL..." (Gal.5:22-23, NIV).
I believe this scripture should be written on the walls of every New Covenant Church building above the altar. People need to be reminded of what spirituality is. And this is it. And this is our goal in Christ. Get this fruit and you've made it.
Of course the question naturally follows: How do we get this fruit? Well, I cite several dozen scriptures to you. But rather than do that, I am going to summarise the experience of this Church as it has edged its way slowly, and often painfully, to its adult, butterfly stage of development.
Firstly, we must bear our crosses. By that I mean we must learn to deal with out problems in a spirit of grace. Now I am not talking about problems which are the fruits of unrepented sin -- those problems are of our own making and are a hindrance to our spiritual growth and perfection. I am talking about difficulties which the Lord permits in our lives in our to mature us. Paul had one, which he never revealed -- a thorn in his flesh, he called it. He asked the Lord to take it away, but He never did. Instead God said: "My grace is sufficient." Some think it was a stutter, or a big nose, or a disease, or even a bad temper. We don't known. But we do know that we, like him, are given weaknesses to teach us to develop the Christian graces. Without this problems -- the opposition we have in the world or even in our flesh -- we would never grow. We would never learn patience not would we have our pride crushed out of us. That is why we have black in our Church banners -- it is the opposition we must have in order to grow into perfection. Run away from this opposition and you run away from your only chance of becoming perfect.
Therefore we shall bear our burdens, and learn to do so cheerfully, no matter whether it is sickness, pain, loss of beloved ones, financial ruin, or whatever. These things, though apparently cruel and heartless on the outside, are in reality a great blessing to us and a paradoxical revelation of God's love for us.
Which brings me to the second key I want to share with you, and that is finding balance in life. Another symbol you will find in many of our Church building is a pair of scales or balances. Though traditionally a symbol of judgment it is, for New Covenant Christians, far more than that: it is a representation of the true state of being.
Now to begin with I want to dismiss the Buddhist-Hindu idea that life is a balance of good and evil, and that we must find a balance of this in our lives in order to be stable. We reject that doctrine utterly, for at its heart (if you extrapolate it logically backwards to God) means that God is a balance of good and evil. And that is what Satan would have you believe. Or, on a more refined level to cater to Western, Christian tastes, the universe is a balance of good and evil, the God and the devil. Though usually the occultists will tell you that it is Lucifer who is "God" and "Adonai" or "Yahweh" (the true God of Israel) who is the "devil". So don't be fooled by occult doctrine, and don't assume that' what we mean by finding a balance in the Gospel life.
Instead, let me illustrate with some examples of what I mean:
Rationalism vs. Mysticism
The Christian faith is immensely logical and is based on historical events, like the Virgin Birth of Christ, His death on the Cross, and His physical resurrection. It is, as many rightly say, a "rational faith". It is not "blind faith". But it is not all rational. It is also highly mystical. It is fully of apparent "paradoxes" which cannot be finally resolved without a proper vision of the balance of apparent opposites in life. Some truths can only be expressed in pictures or symbols -- words are quite useless. The Spirit isn't something you can dissect in the biologist's laboratory and study using the scientific method. For the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. A human body, for example, is not simply an aggregation of chemicals. It has a spiritual dimension also. There is more to life than physical elements and their interaction with each other.
Liturgy vs. Free Worship
Some churches are highly liturgical and other have virtually no structure at all. Some are "formal" and others are "spontaneous". Typically those who are running away from an oppressive experience in formal religion turn to the "spontaneous" type, as is found in the Pentecostal movement; and those who are running away from that "chaos" of the spontaneous form of worship turn to more liturgical worship, as is found in, for example, the Lutheran or Presbyterial Churches. Usually people move from one type of religious experience to another as a reaction, and after a while they find themselves -- like a pendulum -- swinging back in the other direction.
The New Covenant Church of God, to be organised anew on 6 April 1996, will be very different from its predecessors. We began, as Independent Christians, in a very formalistic environment, and then moved into a very loose, unstructured one as members of the "New Covenant Christian Fellowship". As members of the New Covenant Church of God we are moving somewhere in the middle. Our worship will include both the free and structureless pentecostal-like pattern as well as a new liturgical structure in the in the main Communion Meeting. We have discovered the necessity of a balance between free, spontaneity and formal, quiet and serious worship.
Common Sense vs. Brilliant Scholarship
To be a wise people New Covenant Christians need good Bible scholarship. It is no good, as many claim to just have the "Bible" and the "Spirit". You can never mature with such an attitude.
We are often accused of being intellectuals, and we make no attempt to hide that. God gave us minds as well as hearts and intended us to use both. We believe in theology and religious experience, that both are vitally important to a sound faith. We need intellectuals and those who have plain common sense, and neither is greater than the other. We need those who are clear thinkers and those who have the wisdom and experience of intuition.
The New Covenant Church of God owes its treasure-house of knowledge to both scholarship and revelation. We regard the two as being two sides of the same pair of scales. We have dared break out of the traditional Greek mind-frame of Christendom and returned to our Hebrew Christian roots. And a whole new universe of light has opened up to us in the process. Faulty translations of scripture, perpetuated by tradition and willful-ignorance, have been swept aside and revolutionary new meanings given to them.
One example is our attitude to the Law which be believe is still in force. We believe that Christ it is goal and not its "end". A whole new universe of truth and spiritual blessings have opened up to us because of that.
We have also tackled the thorny question of the mind and the heart. Ours is a rationalistic world, on the one side, and an amazingly feeling-based liberal philosophy on the other. And the two have never been reconciled. On the one hand we are trained in school and university to use our minds but never our hearts, and then told that whatever you feel is right for you. But in the ancient Hebrew world there was no distinction between heart and mind -- both were expressed in the single word, lev, meaning "heart". In their world, they were one and the same.
But in our world there is a chasm between the two -- the mind has been divorced from the heart in such a way that they no longer know how to be reconciled with one another. People are therefore either mind-based (intellectuals) of feeling-based. They form two type of people and they cannot relate to each other. In the New Covenant we have joined the two together. We have found Unity.
The Artistic vs. the Prosaic
I was trained as a scientist. I thought all "arty" people were disorganised, chaotic, temperamental, unbalanced, illogical and scatter-brained. And usually they are. But what I didn't realise is that scientists are usually pretty cold, bland and uncreative -- they often lack imagination.
The truth of the matter is that the scientist needs the artist and the artist needs the scientist. The artist needs the scientist's love of order and system, and the scientist needs the artist's spontaneity and creativity. They really ought to be one and the same. I always regretted in the educational system I was brought up in that at around 14 years old we had to choose between "arty" subjects and "scientific, mathematical" ones. By the time we were 16 we were in either one "camp" or the other. Though we may indeed have a propensity to be one or the other our education is never complete until we have received both. Let the scientist be creative and artistic, and let the artist be scientific!
Complex vs. Simple
Recently a group of members left the Church believing we have made it too complex. Their rallying cry was: "It's SO SIMPLE!" And they were right. And wrong. Yes, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is incredibly simple. It is as simple as choosing Christ or the world. But it is also complex because we are complex.
Take a humble plant -- a weed -- one that we pull up out of our flower beds each summer. Cut it open and extract a single cell from its leaf. That cell is more complex than anything man has ever made and ever will make. The truth of the matter is that simplicity and complexity are two sides of the same truth.
Any minister who has had to deal with complex personal problems will tell you that it is not as simple as saying: "Trust Jesus, and all will be fine." Sometimes it is, I grant you, but usually not. Jesus is not a wizard. Though He can, and does, sometimes "instantly cure" (and praise God for that, for it is a wonder to behold) for the most part our problems are solved only gradually. And with good reason, because the problem we work out ourselves is one we rarely end up in again. I have seen drug addicts, alcoholics, and satanists healed instantly through faith in Christ. Sometimes that has been the only way to rescue them. But a very large portion of them return to their old way of life.
I know of homosexuals and lesbians who have been instantly healed and have become ordinary heterosexuals, and know of others who have had to struggle and agonise through years before they were healed. The former can testify to the wonder and power of God, and the latter can tell you how they were healed and can help others. Both processes are valid. But better still, to be able to experience the wonder and power of God and at the same time gain the wisdom of understanding what the problem actually was and to help people with similar problems work their way through them with the help of the Lord.
Yes, the Gospel is very, very simple -- so simple that an uneducated man can come to Christ and be saved. But it is so complex that an educated, thinking man can also come to Christ. Both can give their witness. And both witnesses are equally valid. The uneducated man will grow in wisdom, and the educated one will grow in faith! Fantastic!
The New Covenant Church of God may rightly be called a Church of Balance. We recognise that each side needs the other and that the perfect disciple with have both natures in him. The rationalist needs the mystical for the challenge and excitement that the latter gives; and mystics need the council of the rationalists so that they can think straight. As it is written in the scriptures:
"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (Prov.27:17, NIV).
The Gospel is never as simple as the Pentecostals and their kin tell you and it is never as complex as the those who point to, and reveal, all the minutiae of the Law will tell you. And yet it is also the opposite. When the evangelicals tell you that you are "saved by grace" and by grace alone, they are right; but so too are those who say we are saved by works. The truth is that the two are inseparable. Faith is the first moving principle, but works flowing out of that grace lead to more faith. It is a divine synergism.
There is no such thing as "conservative" and "liberal" Christianity. But there is a thing called "whole Christianity". We need conservatives and liberals only to being us to wholeness. We must be conservative in morals and doctrine but liberal in forgiveness and love.
That's another reason true New Covenant Christians find politics so impossible. We are conservatives when it comes to morality but we are socialists when it comes to equality and sharing. And we are neither of these because we believe that these things must come out of grace and not law, yet law is needed to preserve order and thwart chaos.
Simple, isn't it? Well, yes and no.
Learning to Listen
I hope from considering the importance of balance that it is now clearer to see why Christianity is so divided and why the Gospel is interpreted in so many different ways. As any one who has raised children will know, teaching them to listen is not easy. Too often the words of parents go in one ear and other the other. So often I have heard a child impatiently say, "Yes, yes, yes!" when you ask them to do something, to then watch them go and do something completely differently. It is the same in our relationship with our Heavenly Father.
Next fact: God talks in not just one way but in millions. We are not connected to the Lord by a single telephone cable along which only one kind of signal can pass. We are connected by the whole universe....in a way.
Just as the airwaves are crammed with thousands of signals which we must tune into on our radios, TVs and computers, so also are the "spiritual waves". Our soul is picking up thousands of different signals every second. No wonder we often hear wrong. Yet when we do, God can still turn our mistakes to His glory. We can learn through grace.
In trying to hear God speak to us we have an old enemy -- the flesh -- that is, our unredeemed, fallen nature, which is hooked into our brains and hearts. If we are to remain at rest, as David mentioned in the Psalm quoted at the beginning, we must engage in a constant struggle. LISTENING TO GOD IS NOT PASSIVE. You can't just sit down and say: "OK, Lord, I'm listening!" Listening is ACTIVE WORK.
Now that may seem strange. How can we remain calm and quiet and yet struggle at the same time? The answer is that there is a lot of preparation we must do before we can here. We have got to get rid of all those extraneous spiritual waves clamouring for our ear. We need to pray, fast, and live out our Christian lives to the best we can. These are essential preparations. If I am talking to someone and my children are screaming in the background I need to tell them to be quiet before I can give my full attention to the one I am, having a serious conversation with.
It is hard to listen in God's presence. It isn't easy. And it's especially hard when He tells us what we don't want to hear. Once we hear the opposite of what we want, we have many ways of ejecting out of our prayer cockpits: "I must be imagining it!" is one favourite. Or we may simple turn and run. Or we may make a false demand upon the Lord and say: "I can't manage it!" "I can't live up to it!" So we cut the message out and invent all sorts of excuses. "I must have heard Him wrong." "He has no idea...."
But we have heard Him right and He does understand. We've no excuse because He became a man as Jesus Christ and experienced life at the receiving end here on earth as we do. He absolutely knows, and far better than we do.
Sometimes the Lord may give a revelation to us which totally smashes our understanding of God's Word, and so we conclude: "This is out of harmony with God's Word. Therefore it is a false revelation!" Or, even worse, "God's Word is wrong!".
But both are wrong and very na´ve, even stupid. Usually it is our interpretation of God's Word that is wrong. Revelation has a tendency to smash all our interpretational idols.
Let me give you one. God revealed to the Israelites through Moses:
And then Jesus comes along and says: "I am God." And we are told that the Holy Spirit is "God" too. Before long you have three "Gods". No wonder the Jews went crazy. Here were Christians saying there were three Persons who were all God. Even Christians were puzzled. They couldn't sometimes easily reconcile the truth that both the Father and Son were God with the truth that there is only one God. So they invented hopelessly complex and logically contorted doctrines. Their bequest was the doctrine of the Trinity which no-one can explain. It is one of the "unexplainable mysteries of the faith". Actually, it is an invention of men. And even today it is explained in different ways. There are the modalistic monarchists who say there is only one God who manifests Himself in three different ways. Then there are the Mormons who say there are three Gods ("Elohim" the Father, "Jehovah" the Son, and the Holy Ghost), and the Jehovah's Witnesses who say there is one big God (the Father) and one small god (the Son).
"Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one God" (Dt.6:4).
Read in the original Hebrew, Deuteronomy 6:4 presents a clear answer, for it says:
Both the Father and the Son are called Yahweh (Jehovah) in the Bible and both are called El/Elohim ("God"/"Gods", sometimes translated "Judges" when referring to men, sometimes as "plurality of majesty", depending on your doctrinal bias). God is always described in plural terms in the Old Testament, but also in singular terms too. The Godhead is clearly both plural as well as being singular. There are three Persons -- Individuals -- but only one God. Thus Deuteronomy 6:4 implies plurality like a pregnant mother.
"Hear, O Israel, Yahweh [I am that I am] our Elohim [Gods] is one Adonai [Lord]" (Opt.cit).
Seeing these things takes time and experience and familiarity with the Spirit. God cannot reveal Himself all at once to us. He has to reveal Himself piecemeal -- a little here, and a little there. His true nature is gradually unfolded to our understanding.
It is hard to spot false prophets by the same token. Only when the words of a prophet come to fruition (fulfillment) can we see whether he word are true or not. In this life we here many competing voices -- only time and experience can weed the false ones out. Thus listening demands patience and trust. Without these it is impossible to hear the Lord.
Such discernment usually requires that we fall flat on our faces into the dust many times. We have to make fools of ourselves as we learn. If we are too proud to do that, then we will never learn. Only those who are willing to "eat crow" can grow up in the Holy Spirit.
"But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil" (Heb.5:14, NIV).
And all must grow up in the same way. Prophets, apostles, elders, eldresses, deacons, deaconesses and ordinary members -- all must learn the same lessons of humility. The qualifications for heaven are the same for all, whether they have "high" callings or "low" (as humans would judge them, that is). All have to walk the same road. The trouble is those with "high" callings (real or imagined) often fool themselves into believing they are walking on a "higher" road and that they are therefore excepted from such spiritual discipline. Wrong. All must go the same way.
Through all of this I have discovered that God has a great sense of humour. Like the mother who gets angry when baby breaks a previous ornament and then loves it afterwards, so too does God love us. He rebukes, but there is always warmth and forgiveness too. Just as son hits his father's bad shoulder accidentally and father cries out in pain angrily, so afterwards he is playing and laughing with his son. God's anger is short lived when we repent but it is there nonetheless. Never forget that. Don't try and dilute out God's nature by saying he is "all love", meaning he doesn't sternly rebuke or get angry. He does. And that is part of His loving, corrective nature.
Life is a game, however serious, for joy always undergirds it. It's there in the creation for everyone to see. Who put playfulness into kittens and puppies? God did, so show us that this is a part of the divine Nature. God is terrible serious, but not so serious that He never laughs or has fun. Neither should we be. There are some humans who are, alas, so "holy" (as they suppose) that they have ceased to be human beings, and have ceased to resemble God in any way. For we are creations in His image.
Don't be stiff and uptight. Don't fear that you will be lost if you don't perform correctly. If you do, you'll never see the twinkle in God's eye. Relax and have fun but remain vigilant and sober. The two are in perfect balance. Expect to be "slapped" by the Elders if you get too light hearted and frivolous, and expect to be "slapped" if you take yourself too seriously. Life is both serious and fun. Don't be melodramatic or else you may hear God's laughter in the background.
All is balance. "Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh" (Lk.6:21, NIV). And we are to experience both sides of the pendulum until we have found that balance. "Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep" (Lk.6:25, NIV). Through joy and suffering we eventually come to enlightenment and understand what it actually is to be a son or daughter of God.
When I see people living lives free of problems I feel sorry for them for I know that they must experience the opposite sooner or later. And when I see people facing problems I rejoice for them for I know that good times lie ahead.
In this Church it is not uncommon for people to swing from one side of the Gospel pendulum to the other as they discover the two sides of life and of being human. Unfortunately, sometimes they swing themselves right out of the Church and try to clutch onto what they suppose is the "good life". That branch always breaks in the end. Our soul must eventually follow the course of the river, fulfilling its destiny. Wise is the man who lets go early, and endures the bumps, before the river swells into a torrent when one who stubbornly resists finds himself out of season in the wrong place. But better late than never.
The great lesson in the "balancing game" is surrendering to the will of God and placing oneself completely in the hands of Jesus Christ. That's when we resist the flesh and let the spirit lead. Better though to be buffeted within the safe confines of the Covenants than out in the lonely, unsympathetic world.
Some people have complained that they have seen no fruits in this Church and have left it. How terribly, terribly wrong they are! I suppose it depends what fruits you are looking for -- huge congregations, lively meetings, wealth, certain spiritual gifts, or whatever. We don't seek for these things because they are not fruits of the Spirit. They are gifts, which are often passing. We seek for that which is immortal and lasting, and we have found them:
If these are what you are searching for, then we invite you to become a part of the New Covenant Christian people. For this is what we are about. Amen._
Reconstructed from a talk given to Oslo Central Colony, Sunday 18 February 1996
This page was created on 15 May 1998
Last updated on 15 May 1998
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