I got my shiny new inductive study bible today. I have been using the same study bible for over 20 years and the covers had fallen off, the binding was tearing. It was time for a new one. I use the Inductive Study Bible from Precept Ministries.
Back in my legalistic hellfire and damnation church lady days I did a lot of training on inductive study and did a lot of teaching. I had no business teaching. LOL. I got my butt kicked in pretty short order. God spent about two decades after that initial period, teaching me about mercy and love while He healed and delivered me.
So what do I do now? With this constant inner voice that says “Feed my sheep.” I hear it all the time. Meh. fine. I’ll study again. And blog. But please know, to quote Paul, I am the worst of all sinners. Seriously. I’m quite happy to confess my sins in detail and at length. So, no piety or holier-than-thou here. None of that. I am the woman at the well.
Anyhow. So now I’m in the book of James.
James has been the source of many of the verses which have sustained me through a really rough year. Oddly enough, Job’s story and Elijah’s story have been pretty significant too. I say “oddly enough” because those are the two guys James mentions in his last chapter. I kinda giggled when I realized.
My response to things getting progressively worse has been “Though you slay me, yet will I trust You.” along with a refusal to accept that “This is God’s will.” When idiots try to tell you calamity is God’s will they are saying much about what they think of God. No, it is not God’s will. God doesn’t will us failure and destitution and disease and depression and death. That is not God’s will. A careful perusal of Job will show you that Job suffers and a bunch of religious friends come and try to tell him it’s because he sinned. Or it’s God’s will. Or…well you can find the whole list. Read it yourself.
But yeah, I’ve had to work through this stuff. I’m not a health, wealth and prosperity nut. I understand we will suffer. But to say it’s God’s will brings up all sorts of abusive parent imagery. Stop it. We pray for His will to be done for a reason. His will is always, always, love.
Anyhow, seeing how Job worked through his stuff has kinda helped me. Then Elijah. Joshua Jones had written a lovely book called Elijah Men Eat Meat. I didn’t understand how the Lord was going to use it in me until my trials hit. Let’s just say Elijah’s example in how he prayed and in what he did have inspired me a lot. I’ve used his example to persevere in prayer. To trust and hope. It mattered.
In inductive study, there are three stages. The first is Observation. You study the book in context, observing what it says. Only after thorough observation in context can you interpret. Interpretation is stage 2. Then you get to go to stage 3, which is Application. How do you live out the truth?
I’m working on James. First step, read the whole book through in one sitting. Step two, go mark every reference to the recipients. Step three mark the keywords. Step four, make a list of all instructions (commands) given and any illustrations or explanations that accompany those. Then come up with the theme of the book.
This is more fun than I should be allowed to have.
OK, so I will likely change my theme over time, but right now? I think the theme of James is about wisdom and maturity and trials. Heh. Kinda pertinent for me. I’m choosing this verse as the theme. It’s what I see.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.James 1:2-4. NASB
I can’t possibly discuss the next verse without a side note. I have history with James 1:5. It’s the first verse the Holy Spirit used to pierce my soul. I heard a speaker when I was in middle school give a series of talks on wisdom, and Solomon. He used that verse. Basically the message was that wisdom was a heart with ears on it.
Wisdom is hearing and obeying God.
So, there are a lot of people who will tell you that God doesn’t speak in this dispensation. Etc.
“My sheep hear My voice.” and “When the Spirit comes, He will guide you into all truth.” Et cetera. Prayer isn’t just talking it’s also listening. In fact, the listening is more important than the talking. Really.
But the big problem is… how do you know it is Him and not you? what do you do when He seems to be silent? and what if it’s …you know… the other camp….that is speaking? What if you’re hearing yuck monsters (demons) and can’t tell the difference?
Dallas Willard has a great book about hearing God called, oddly enough, Hearing God. I’ve read it but apparently a wounded piece of me still had some questions. Doubts. Fears. So here I am, studying James and I have no doubt the LORD is using it to heal me. Deal with my remaining junk.
All of that to say, verses 2-4 have been tumbling round my noggin for several months. Count it all joy. “Count it” doesn’t mean I feel it. It means I mentally assent to the fact “hey there is joy to be found here,” even when I’m miserable. I can still be really unhappy. Hurting. I don’t have to lie. Lamenting is worship too. There’s a whole book of Lamentations. The Psalms are there and hey, some of them are fairly imprecatory prayers. BUT. I can acknowledge pain without giving in to despair. I have hope. I know all this will turn out with joy.
The “various trials” transformed from meaning “myriad” to “all of them at once” for me. So I got to the idea of Job’s story again. I’ll get more into that later. All I want to say now is that yes. The enemy was involved. The enemy assaulted Job. But the enemy was restrained. He had boundaries.
In Elijah’s story we get great victory over darkness and evil. But we also have a dude that had a magic oil jar run out. Then ravens brought him food. But the widow’s son died. I honestly think that Elijah would not have prevailed on that mountaintop against the witchlords and evil priests if he had simply buried the widow’s son.
Most of us would have. He refused to accept death.
In Elijah’s story, the enemy isn’t directly on stage but we can see the assaults and their effects. The enemy always means his assaults for evil. God allows them for our good. He is the King of kings, the Lord of lords. We live in a world at war, spiritual war. God will use it to grow us up.
So if we don’t have wisdom, we are supposed to ask for it and no matter what we will be given wisdom. We will be given the instruction we need when we need it. That’s what it says. Bountifully and without reproach.
There’s a but.
But let him ask in faith.
Ok, so after 6 months of me basically praying like a maniac and not hearing any answers that seemed to apply to my immediate needs, I noticed the second part. Things are going from bad to worse. From frying pan to fire.
For let not that man expect to receive anything. Double minded. Unstable in all his ways. et cetera.
My big worry is that I won’t hear right. I am scared to death I’ll get it wrong. I’ll listen to the enemy, believe the lie, act the fool. Because, let’s face it. I haven’t exactly performed well to date. I’ve screwed up a lot. This is not a secret. It’s kept me from teaching. It planted the thought in my head that even blogging was wrong because how can I presume to be anyone worth reading?
I hear God. I do. He told me a while back to look up Ray Stedman. I didn’t know who Ray Stedman was. That was pretty darn specific. There have been other things, but you get the idea. I’ve heard Him. But for a long time now, I haven’t. Except for specific verses rolling around my noggin. But those didn’t tell me how to get out of the frying pan. And it was scary.
So back to the doubt thing. I’m asking for answers but I’m also crossing my fingers behind my back …because maybe I don’t hear Him like that anymore on day to day things. I hear “Feed my sheep” but that can’t possibly cover my tax bill next week. It makes no sense. What if I hear wrong? What if I hear “Go buy a lottery ticket.” Would He say that? And I’m literally taking communion and I hear “I hope you choke on that and die.” Cue me calling a shrink. Yeah. So I’m pretty sure I’m hearing the enemy just fine. I’m pretty sure a lot is my imagination too.
The other verse nailing me was
You have not because you ask not. You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, so you can spend it on your pleasures.
Do I have wrong motives? This verse certainly seemed to be accusing me of having wrong motives. I was in a tailspin.
James also says this. It’s important.
13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace [oby those who make peace.James 3:13-18
Ok, so this helps. I now have something to help me discern what I’m hearing. The fruit is wonky if it isn’t God. Disorder, evil. Of course I won’t see fruit till I’ve turned the wrong way but if what I hear isnt pure, there’s no peace, it isn’t gentle or reasonable or full of mercy or unwavering (does it change????) then it likely isn’t God. Yes even if there’s a Bible verse because yes. Satan uses Bible verses. Read the temptation of Christ story. It isn’t enough to know the verses. You have to know Jesus and you have to know the truth.
The other thing I got led to was the second part of the “My sheep hear my Voice.”
27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.John 10:27-28
but if you back up in that chapter and read his whole parable? there’s a promise there.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.”John 10:1-5
You see it?
And in John 17 Jesus prays for us to be kept in the truth. I’m fairly certain Daddy-God said yes.
So here we are. Yes I have screwed up and heard wrong before, but Jesus has given me ways to discern the source of what I’m hearing. He then promises I won’t follow lies. And yes I can deceive myself and a big part of James is about deceiving myself. But ….and this is a big big big but. That’s the whole point of becoming mature. I won’t deceive myself. I won’t be a hypocrite. I’ll have more victory. That’s why he prayed what He did for me. I’ll turn it around if I go the wrong way. He will be a shepherd.
Then a big message topped it all off.
Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.Romans 10:17
I don’t have wrong motives. I do need to walk in faith. Not just that He will help me, but I also need to have faith in who I am in Christ and what He’s already done. I read a book called Victory over the Darkness and Neil T. Anderson summed it up for me, reminding me of the victory I’ve already received in Christ. I just need to walk in it.
I also asked a bunch of people to pray for me.
So there we have it. It’s the day in between Good Friday and Easter as I write this. In many ways, I feel much like breakthrough hasn’t yet come. Financially, it hasn’t, though things have improved. But I believe God is teaching me and I do honestly count it all joy. I did have doubt but I think my doubt and double-mindedness have been scoured away. I believe the breakthrough is on its way. Easter is coming. Whether it is or not, I trust Him.
“Be not deceived, Wormwood, our cause is never more in jeopardy than when a human, no longer desiring but still intending to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe in which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”C.S.Lewis, The Screwtape Letters