Friday, April 23, 2010

He must increase and I must decrease

I just got the email I've posted below from Zac Poonen's ministry which at least obliquely speaks to some concerns I've had on my mind recently. I probably won't get it all said in this post but I'll put his email up as food for thought at least.

I certainly understand the point that when a preacher wants to convict his hearers of sin it only comes off as accusation that doesn't really convict if it is done in the wrong spirit. I've experienced this countless times. Such preaching may create a sense of guilt that prompts increased efforts in the flesh to amend one's ways, but not the sort of spiritual conviction that leads to genuine deep repentance and cleansing.

Over and over I use my mind to try to persuade people of this or that -- in this case not personal sin but some proposition or other about the current cultural atmosphere, about how sin in general brings judgment on a nation, or about evolution and that sort of thing -- and over and over I have the thought in the back of my head that this is the wrong way to go about it, that I need the Holy Spirit if I'm to succeed at getting anything across. Only the Holy Spirit can get across what I'm trying to get across. It has to be His work, not mine. I know this and yet I keep doing it in the flesh -- through the mind alone. Partly this is reinforced by the frequent assertion from other Christians that if you believe in Christ you therefore HAVE the Holy Spirit, your mind IS the mind of Christ and so on. Well, yes but no. Over and over I complain that I'm too self-centered (I know I am and I can't get out of it) and over and over the response will come back "oh but we all are" without any apparent recognition that we can't be self-centered and do the work God wants of us. It's a distressing frame of mind to be in. This needs a lot of spelling out.

But for right now I'm just going to post Zac Poonen's exhortation. The connection with my thoughts is a little rough I realize but although he uses different terms it says a great deal that instructs in what I've been trying to learn. I will say that speaking from the Holy Spirit is speaking from one's nothingness and I'm very aware of my pride lately and lack of a sense of my own nothingness despite my intellectual appreciation of how much it's exactly what I need. Pride, self. Self is always there, seems there's no way to get around it. Yet its presence is always interfering and it
be done away somehow. Constant reminders that in Christ we are saved and forgiven do not speak to this. Self has to die, the flesh has to die, the self has to die that the Spirit may live through us. REALLY die, be found no more. But even the churches rationalize it so that it never really gets killed.

"Kill me, Lord."

God Wants Us to Recognise Our Nothingness

Zac Poonen

In Job, Chapters 38-41, notice the completely different way in which God spoke to Job compared to the way the four preachers, (who claimed to represent Him) spoke. God did not once accuse Job of having sinned in secret or tell him that he was being punished for his sins, etc., etc., and Job was convicted immediately and repented!! What a lesson we can all learn from that, on how to speak to people and how to preach! God’s ways are not our ways. Many preachers try to convict people by telling them about sins that they imagine those others have committed. Nothing results from such an approach, except that the preachers themselves increase their guilt before God for speaking with the spirit of the Accuser. God, in His great mercy and compassion however, speaks to man in quite another way - and the man is so thoroughly convicted of his sins that he says, “O God, I am corrupt, I am nothing. I repent. Please forgive me.” God leads people to repentance by His kindness (Rom. 2:4).

Three basic questions that God was asking Job (in these chapters) were:

1. “If you can’t understand these wonders in creation, how can you understand spiritual realities?”

2. “If I control all My creation, do you think that I couldn’t control the lightning that struck your sheep, or the Sabeans and Chaldeans who killed your servants, or the storm that struck your children’s houses?”

3. “If you can’t stand in front of a crocodile that I created, how can you stand before Me?” (41:9-11).

God showed Job His sovereign power and control over all of creation. That was all that needed to be said. And Job was humbled. Hours of direct attack by the four preachers accomplished nothing. The indirect approach by God accomplished everything in a few minutes. Faith in the sovereign control of God over all of His creation is what will bring rest to our hearts too, when we face problems, afflictions and enemies.

The Lord asked Job, “Do you still want to argue with the Almighty?” (Job.40:2). Job, who had a quick reply for every argument thus far is now silenced. He now says, “Lord, I am nothing and I have nothing to say. I will not speak any more.”

This first book of inspired Scripture teaches us that God wants us to recognize our nothingness so that he can be everything in our lives. Then our lives will fulfil His purpose and be a blessing to multitudes. Before God can use someone, He has to reduce him to nothing.

Paul said, “What is Paul and what is Apollos? I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything.” (1Cor.3:5,6).In other words, the one who does evangelism is nothing and the one who does Bible teaching is also nothing. God alone is everything and so He alone deserves all the glory. That was the secret of Paul’s life - he was a zero even at the end of his life.

There are preachers who are eager to grab the credit for souls saved somewhere. There are pastors who complain saying, “That pastor stole my sheep from my church”. etc., etc. Why do these Christian workers speak like this? Because they haven’t become zeros as yet. When they say, “my church”, which church are they talking about? We know of the church of Jesus Christ. But which is their church? Everybody must certainly be taken away from “their church” and planted in the church of Jesus Christ!! And “their church” must be destroyed.

What a long time it took Job to come to the place where he could acknowledge that he was insignificant and decide never to justify himself any more. Thereafter, for the rest of his life, Job must have been a man who was “quick to hear and slow to speak” (Jas.1:19). The long speech that he gave in six chapters (Chapters 26 to 31) is the longest self-justification found in the entire Bible. It stinks of self-righteousness
all the way through. But Job could not smell his pride himself.

Now at last this self-righteous man had become zero. As a result of whose preaching? Was it through the man who spoke of visions and dreams? Was it through the man who held the traditions of the fathers as sacred? Was it through the self-appointed “prophet”? Or was it through the man who was so correct in what he said? None of these four preachers could help him. It was God Who helped Job to come to this place. He was the Fifth Preacher. And He is the One Whom we should imitate. “Be imitators of God” (Eph.5:1). What a wonderful thing God’s brief message did to Job, which the other preachers could not do with all their long and repeated sermons. What was the reason for this? The answer is: God loved Job. The four preachers did not. When we love people from our heart, God will give us the right words to give them. When we don’t love them, we will only criticise them and accuse them and we won’t be able to bless them. Let us learn then to love the people we serve, and God will always give us the words to speak to them.

A prophet of God must have God’s word in his heart and God’s people on his heart. Then God will give him prophetic messages for them.

While the other four preachers tried to convict Job of his sin, God sought to make Job a worshipper. And God succeeded. This is what we need to show an unbelieving generation - that our God is the Almighty and Sovereign Ruler of this universe. We are not to be intimidated by the threats of our opponents – for not a hair of our heads can be touched by anyone without our Sovereign, Heavenly Father’s permission.

Let us learn to act with compassion, instead of always being ready to criticise. Let us never pass judgment when we do not know the true facts. Even when we think we know the facts, let us acknowledge that there may be other facts that we still don’t know. So let us always humble ourselves and say, “Lord, I am nothing. I’ll put my hand over my mouth and keep quiet.”

Job also said, “Lord, I had heard about You before, but now I have seen You” (Job.42:5). There is a vast difference between hearing about God and knowing Him personally. When John saw Jesus on the isle of Patmos, he fell down and worshipped Him. Job fell down and worshipped God too. Job also repented radically of his accusing God and took back every word he had spoken (42:6), and God forgave him immediately as we see very soon thereafter.

Even learning that we are to be nothing and believing it can be done through the flesh, that's the problem I keep running into in myself. I can preach it fine, but living it is something else.

And I can't just DECIDE to do it in the Spirit, God has to do a work so that I REALLY know I'm nothing, I have to SEE it, it must be REVEALED and THEN I'll really know it and live it.

It does help to pray that He will bring it about though. And even doing whatever we can do in the flesh to shut ourselves up and make ourselves small, make ourselves nothing, of no account, can't hurt unless we're deceiving ourselves that that's all there is to it.

Even truth can be preached in the flesh so you have to die even to truth in that case.