Does it seem like we sit through sermons and think, “I hope THAT person is hearing what’s being said.” I sometimes find myself reading the Bible and thinking that God is really letting them have it; He’s speaking to the Jews and teaching them a lesson, or what fools they are for falling back into the same patterns time after time. We read the chastisements that Jesus hurled at the Pharisees and it seems right that they should receive such rebuke. Are we like the religious leader who prayed, “I’m glad that I am not like this beggar?”
I was reading Psalm 140 the other day and I started thinking that I was both of the people in the verses. Consider it: “Deliver me, O LORD, from the evil man: preserve me from the violent man.” This may well be referring to the enemy of the writer but it occurred to me that it is just as likely that the evil man, the violent man is really just the man I was before I found faith. Verse 2, “Which imagine mischiefs in their heart; continually are they gathered together for war.” My heart seems to be continually imagining mischiefs; the old man is always at war with the new creation I am supposed to be. “They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent; adders’ poison is under their lips. Selah. Keep me, O LORD, from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from the violent man; who have purposed to overthrow my goings. The proud have hid a snare for me, and cords; they have spread a net by the wayside; they have set gins for me. Selah. I said unto the LORD, Thou art my God: hear the voice of my supplications, O LORD. O GOD the Lord, the strength of my salvation, thou hast covered my head in the day of battle. Grant not, O LORD, the desires of the wicked: further not his wicked device; lest they exalt themselves. Selah.”
As I look at this I see myself warring against myself at every turn! It’s easy to read things like this and think about the adversaries of the kings and peoples of biblical times as the object of such fervent supplication but to think, even for a moment, that we, ourselves, are the ones we need protection from gives one pause. It should. My own hands are those of the wicked, my pride continually sets snares with which to catch me. “Grant not the desires of the wicked,” I think, who is more wicked than me? If others knew me the way I know me I would surely be in dire trouble.
Just as an untended field inevitably returns to weeds and thistles, so does every natural inclination of the saints try to drag us back to the people we were before the day of our salvation. It is only by the grace of God in Christ Jesus and through the power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to take the next step on our walks of faith. When John the Baptist offended the Pharisees and Sadducees at the Jordan saying, “Ye offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come,” (Matthew 3:7), we readily accept that those folks needed to be accosted in such harsh terms, but maybe we are reading the chastisement directed at the people our sinful selves are straining to return to.
I am, in reality, every bit as much the Cain I wish I weren’t as the Abel I wish I could pretend to be. When God unleashes the wrath of His Majesty on the sin of the world, it is the same sin that I am accosted by each day. The sin is the same and the nature of man is the same so the words of Scripture are as surely pointed directly at the mess I am as they are at any other person. Self-righteousness lives in me, I have more than enough shame to humble me for the rest of my life but I think, “I’m saved. I don’t have to worry so much about the slips along the way.” I’m a fool. While I can recognize the tip of the immensity of grace that has been given to cleanse me from the man I know myself to be, I don’t act in union with that understanding.
The tiny bit of the likeness of God which He has gifted to me is the saving grace of God by the power of the Holy Spirit and I neglect to nurture this, the most vital aspect of my life. At what point did the lessons in the Bible become lessons for other people? I don’t know. When did the sermon from the pulpit become a thing aimed at others while I cheered the message from the sidelines instead of being something God is saying directly to me? How does church change from a nurturing worship experience into something that I don’t need to be present at, in order that the ones who really need to hear it are able to benefit? The Bible is God’s word and as such we need to always remember that it is speaking to us; the readers. When the Proverb says that we should seek wisdom and that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God, it is not saying it to someone who is not reading it; it’s speaking to the image of God in us.
I find myself being a Jonah more often that I care to admit. I know God is speaking to me and giving me direction but I don’t want to act on it. I want to hide from the responsibility that God has placed on me, the responsibility that Jesus died to allow me to have, so that I can do as I please knowing that I will eventually get to Heaven. But even when I finally go where I’m being sent, I want to sit in shared judgment and watch as God lets loose on those wicked sinners who so badly deserve what’s about to come. I even get displeased like Jonah when the same grace God extended to me is offered to others. If the story of Jonah wasn’t written for the benefit of sinners like me, then who could ever benefit from it?
I read the Bible on a pretty regular basis and I know intellectually the properties of grace and the miracle of salvation but I treat them with utter disregard. Then I read something that speaks to me and it snaps me out of it, and I’m amazed to find that I’m amazed! Not only is this speaking to me, but I am genuinely surprised to realize it. If we only read God’s word as third person disinterested, we miss everything. We are living in the first person and the words of Scripture are alive in the here and now to help us in the here and now. I wonder if the reason that the Bible seems to become a chore to read might not be because we stop reading something written to us and allow it to become something written about someone else.
If God treated us the way we treat Him he might well say, “I hear them praying but they aren’t talking to me, they are only muttering to someone else.” I want God to pay attention when I pray, not turn a deaf ear. God could get so tired of our incessant babbling and our disregard of the state of grace in which He has allowed us to live that He would be well within His rights to sit back, shake His head and say, “If only I would hear anything that was…”
All for the Glory of Christ