Wednesdays in the Word Podcast
Letting the Wilderness Shape You
Light In The Darkness
10 Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God.11 Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow.
There are times in our lives when, as Christians, we are called to serve God in the midst of darkness. There are times when it is difficult to see very far ahead. Like driving on a dark highway on a moonless night in the middle of a rainstorm, our lives sometimes feel as if we are going nowhere fast and we are not sure if we will make it to our destination.
It is interesting to me that many Christians desire to be “overcomers”, but do not want much to overcome. We want to go to heaven, but we do not want to die to go there. We want our faith increased, without having to rely on anyone. We want all good times, all the time, and that is simply not how life works. Life is filled with melody and misery, high times and hard times. You may be experiencing a dark time right now, what many saints of the past termed “a dark night of the soul.” You may be at a point right now where you aren’t able to make sense of what is happening in your life. There are times, seasons in our lives, where we have studied the lessons, learned our formulas, memorized the promises of the Bible and think we have it all figured out — and suddenly we are plunged into a deep, deep darkness.
What do you do when the lights go out? When deep darkness comes into your life?
It has been said that in school one learns the lessons first and tests second. In life, we take the test first and learn the lessons second. Hopefully, today you will come to see that there are lessons to be learned when the lights go out.
Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God
In this verse, the Bible is talking about a faithful servant of God. This person loves and fears God. He or she is being obedient. This is not a backslider or someone who has wandered off from God. This is an active Christian who loves the Lord and is being obedient to God’s voice, yet they are in a dark place.
There is a distorted idea out there that once a person becomes a Christian it is all honey and no bees. Not true. It rains on both the just and the unjust. There are tens of thousands of Christians who love God and are obediently serving Him who are experiencing dark times. Over a hundred thousand are martyred across the globe annually.
Job said, “God has put darkness in my path” (Job 19:8) Habakkuk exclaimed, “How long shall I cry out and you not hear?” (Hab. 1:2) John the Baptist sent messengers to Jesus from the cell in which he was imprisoned asking Him if He really was the Messiah. Each of these godly men came to a point in their life that they did not fully comprehend. They experienced a time of darkness, when they did not understand what was happening to them nor why God was allowing it.
When you are in darkness it doesn’t necessarily mean you have sinned or that you are outside of God’s will for your life. It might be that God has put you in a dark time so that His light shines brighter and you can see Him more clearly.
Faith is like film. It is developed in the dark. We grow the most spiritually when we are forced to look to Jesus alone for help. You will never know how much you need Jesus until Jesus is all you have. As Christians, we are called to live by faith – not by explanations. Our verse tells us to trust or lean on the name of the Lord. Even when tough times come. If you do not have the conviction that God is good all the time then you will not stand when darkness falls. Job said – “even if He slays me I will trust in Him.” When walking in darkness we must trust, lean on, God and His promises – which never fail.
When you are in the dark you don’t need explanations. You need God. An explanation sometimes makes things worse. Sometimes God removes all the answers to give us Himself. A relationship with Him is more important than reasons. In his blindness, John Milton wrote Paradise Lost. In prison John Bunyon wrote Pilgrim’s Progress. In exile, John wrote Revelation. In the dark, God develops our faith. Never doubt in the dark what you learned in the light. The test of our character is what we do, how we react, in the dark. God is still God when the darkness comes. He is still reigning on His throne. He still works out things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
Some things, some truths in life, are only learned in the dark. For example, have you ever said, “the stars are out tonight?” Did you know they are out in the daytime but you cannot see them because of the sun’s brightness? There are some treasures, some beautiful things that are only revealed in the dark.
Psalm 148:3 says the stars are there to praise the Lord. Do you have a star in your darkness with which to praise God?
Here are some treasures of the dark. In the light, we see things that are near. In the dark, we see far away – light years away into outer space. We may think our brightest thoughts in the day, but we think our deepest thoughts at night. In the light, we see more clearly. In the dark, we see further. There are some aspects of our future God reveals to us in the dark. If you are praying for God to reveal to you what is next up for your life, be prepared for dark times so that He can show you things that are far off. Just ask Daniel and John about that.
Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow.
There is a danger in the dark that Scripture warns us about. One of our most dangerous temptations is that we will be tempted to light our own fire. That is the warning of verse 11. If God has placed darkness around you, then you need to wait on God to remove it. It is better to be in the dark with God than to stand alone in man-made light. Do not ever give into despair during dark times. Darkness cannot overcome light. Remember, you don’t open a door to let darkness in. You open a door to spill out light.
If light has been removed from the situations in your life, then God, in His wisdom, has allowed it so that your faith can be developed and so that He can show you a glimpse of the future. If God is the One who has placed darkness in your path than do not be so foolish as to light your own fire. A man made fire is deceptive. It is not a sure guide to follow. God says that if we light our own fire in the middle of a God ordained darkness we will suffer.
Abraham and Sarah could not wait. Abraham created his own fire with Hagar to produce Ishmael. Untold centuries of suffering have followed his decision. Has darkness come into your life? Are you waiting on God or trying to light your own fire?
Even in the darkest of nights the sun will still rise and chase it away. Eventually God’s light will shine again and the lessons you learn in the dark will last for all eternity. You will see things and know truths that you had never seen or known before. Weeping may endure for a night says Psalm 30:5, but joy will come in the morning.
Remember this, when you are walking on a sunny day, feeling the warmth of the sun’s rays, those rays are 8.3 minutes old when they reach your face. Even though you feel the sun’s warmth, you have never experienced its full intensity. The sun’s surface temperature is approximately 10,000° F. Its inner core is in excess of 27,000,000 °F. You have felt her warmth but not her intensity.
Likewise, we can feel the warmth of God’s presence but we haven’t experienced the full intensity of His glory yet. There is coming a day when we will, but now we only see a fraction of it. When the lights go out God is still there, shining. He wants to give you a star to praise Him more. Our trials become stars in order to praise the Lord. When the lights go out, develop your faith, lean on the Lord, trust in Him and you will see further than you ever have before.
The following is an excerpt (unedited) from the second chapter of our work in progress, The 180° Project. Please be in prayer as work continues and the final chapters are being written:
Riding on a carousel is great fun for thousands of children. Brightly painted horses, enchanting music and shining lights all add to the experience. One can climb on a gaily decorated pony and go up and down while revolving around and around or sit upon a horse transfixed on a pole, forgoing the vertical movement. No matter which one you ride upon, when the carousel stops its spinning you are back where you started. It is a pleasant ride, but one that takes you nowhere.
For many people, a carousel ride is an apt description of their spiritual life. If you have attended the same church regularly for a long time, you have probably observed such people. As a pastor, I have lost track of the number of people caught up on a spiritual carousel, a merry-go-round of misery that they cannot stop.
Week after week, the same individuals are at the altar pouring out the same confessions. “God, I’m sorry I got drunk again Friday night. I won’t do it anymore.” “Lord, I am ashamed of looking at pornography. I promise to never watch it again.” “God, I’m going to clean up my language this week.” “Lord, I’m sorry for…”
There they kneel, pouring out tears Sunday after Sunday, and yet their lifestyle never changes. At the altar they seem so sincere, so broken-hearted but there is no different in their life after they walk out the doors of the church. For many people, coming to the altar only has a placebo effect, the spiritual equivalent to a sugar pill. Their sincerity is short lived because it is emotion based and emotions change mercurially.
They have confessed, but not repented. The difference between the two is enormous, as we shall see in more detail in chapter three, when we break down the elements of biblical repentance. Confession is the first step; it is necessary but it is not biblical repentance.
They are sorry, to an extent. They are sorry that their sin has been exposed, sorry for the repercussions that are following them, the consequences they must now face. They may even want to reform, to stop their destructive habits, but not so much that any real effort is expended. Should God take away their desires for their sinful habits they would be well pleased. For them to exercise self discipline and take responsibility for their actions – well, why should they do that?
If God really cared, they reason, He could heal them, cleanse them, make them strong enough to conquer their demons. God is entreated as a magic genie or cosmic vending machine instead of a holy, righteous, jealous God who expects His followers to grow and mature in faith.
While God can pick you up off the spinning horse and throw you off the carousel the simple reality is that He rarely does. Never in Scripture is complete victory over every temptation instantly granted to anyone. Instead, we are required to submit daily to His Lordship, learning how His grace is sufficient, how His power is more than adequate for any battle we face. One is more likely to hear God say, “Go, and sin no more,” putting the responsibility back on us.
Mankind is called upon to endure as a soldier of the cross, not to ask for wings to fly over the troubles of the world. We are to pick up our cross and follow Jesus daily, not to ask for the cross’ removal.
What we desire is instant sanctification, not on-going reformation. God is at work transforming us day by day into the likeness of His Son. What we want is a short cut devoid of any hard work on our part. Scripture teaches us that God works in us and through us, as well as for us. Until we decide to come aboard the process His way, we will remain frustrated by our lack of spiritual progress.
For far too long, churches have taught a false definition of repentance. As a result, whole generations have grown up without the slightest clue as to what biblical repentance truly is.
Richard Blackaby once made this astute observation:
“The problem with (an altar call for rededication) is that it is not biblical. The crux of the gospel message is not a call to rededication, but a call to repentance. John the Baptist preached repentance (Matt. 3:2). Jesus preached repentance, both in His earthly ministry and as the resurrected Lord (Matt. 4:17; Rev. 3:19). If one’s previous commitment did not keep him walking in obedience, a re-commitment is no more likely to make him faithful. The proper response to disobedience is not a commitment to try harder, but brokenness and repentance for rejecting the will of Almighty God. God looks for surrender to His will, not commitment to carry it out. Rather than asking church members to repeatedly promise to try harder, churches must call their people to repent before Holy God.”
The concept of repentance gets muddled up with sorrow, regret, remorse and penance. While elements of each of these things can be present in biblical repentance, there is much more to this concept.
Saying one is sorry (showing remorse) and promising to never do an action again is commendable, but it falls 90̊ short of biblical repentance. Feeling sorrow or regret over the pain or loss one has caused by their actions is a necessary component of biblical repentance, but by themselves they fall completely short of the biblical idea. Doing penance, or making restitution for a wrong is commendable but it doesn’t necessarily include the elements of sorrow or regret. By the same token, one may be sorry they were caught or sorry for the consequences of an action and yet make no attempt to give restitution to the one injured or stolen from. They may also have no remorse over the action itself.
Biblical repentance is a 180̊ change. Not only is one regretful over causing the grievance and ceased the offensive action, but they will replace that action with doing good in its place. Even beyond that, this good will have at its core the desire to serve God through that action.
For example, Scripture tells us not to have coarse or vulgar language coming out of our lips but to speak those things which are edifying or that build one another up in the Lord.
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29 NASB
Merely cleaning up one’s language isn’t enough, that is only a 90̊ change. A change for the better, to be sure, but far from the 180̊ change which includes uplifting and encouraging words that the Bible commands us to do.
Another example would be the command to refrain from stealing. Not only are we told not to do this in Ephesians 4:28, but we are told to go to work and provide for others so that others will not be tempted to steal.
He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. NASB
In our two examples, then, biblical repentance looks like this:
|Old Habit:||Replaced By:||For this Purpose:|
|Vulgar Language||Edifying Language||Building up others|
One of the most subtle dangers presenting itself to the church today is that of fideism. Fideism is, in a nutshell, a subtle rejection of learning, reason, knowledge and logic in preference to that, “simple, ol’ time religion.” Those who subscribe to fideism will tell you, ‘I believe what I believe, don’t confuse me with the facts.” Faith and knowledge are held as enemies towards one another. This attitude flies in the face of such Scriptures as 2 Peter 1:5, which tells us to “make every effort to add knowledge to our faith.”
At the heart of fideists, is an unteachable spirit. I sat through one sermon not too long ago, where the pastor sidetracked towards the end of his message and said something to the effect of, “I just preach Jesus. I don’t preach “ism’s”. Not Arminianism, Calvinism or any other “ism”.” That sounds real good but is a stupid statement. Arminians and Calvinists also both preach Jesus. They just present Him differently. Even Jehovah Witnesses preach Jesus — just not the Jesus of Scripture. Anyone who has read through Romans, Ephesians and Hebrews would never characterize Christianity as a simple “religion.” This minister was not interested in understanding the differences, just in building a straw man on both sides while he stood as a third alternative, setting himself up as above all those who were putting “man-made” doctrines over Scripture. This, of course, is a poor argument, since both sides believe their interpretations come straight from Paul, not Calvin or Arminius.
It is hard for me to sit through what I call theatrical preaching. The kind of preaching where the volume and rhetoric overshadow any exposition of Scripture. The kind where “Amens” are elicited after every sentence instead of allowing them to be a spontaneous response from a convicted soul. The type of preaching where yelling, crying, laughing and whispering are masterfully orchestrated to bring the audience to an emotional decision instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to convict. In my boyhood days we used to call this type of preaching “chicken-walking.” Whenever I hear someone stomping, snorting and stepping on their pant-cuffs and claiming they are more spiritual than a pastor who has labored long and hard to rightfully divide the Word of Truth it irks me.
Fideism is on the rise. It is infiltrating both city and country churches. There are many in today’s pulpits who sneer at those “television preachers” while they are doing the same thing on a smaller scale at their own churches. There is a suspicion of their brethren who have earned degrees in theology and ministry and this is passed on to their congregations and fostered to create a culture of ignorance. God wants us to reason with Him, He says so Himself in Isaiah. There were many things Jesus said He wanted to teach His disciples but they hadn’t yet spiritually matured enough to handle it. Discipleship is suffering in our churches because of fideism. It is a dangerous thing to let people study God’s Word in depth because it might make them question the interpretations they have heard from the pulpit for so long.
Roman Catholicism understood this. That is why they resisted their Mass and their Scriptures being in any language other than Latin for so long. It could be why so many pastors fight for KJV only also. Quite a large percentage of Americans cannot read at a 12th grade level (which the KJV is) nor understand Shakespearean English. If they could read Scripture easily (understandably) they also might question. And we all know that a questioning mind is dangerous to those who value control over teaching.
It is far past time to to help our brothers and sisters add knowledge to their faith. That is what Ta Ethne is all about. Join us in bringing a greater knowledge of our faith to believers worldwide so that they can be better equipped in sharing their faith.
One of the most reassuring facets of our Lord Jesus Christ is, to me, His ability to secure our salvation. We serve a God who not only can save, but who actually does so. The gospels abound with such wonderful statements such as Mt. 1:21, ” And you (Mary) shall bring forth a son and younshall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins” and Mt. 18:4 “For the Son of Man came to seek and save that which was lost.” How wonderful is the phrase He shall save” – not just He will make salvation possible, but that He is actively going to save His people.
The fact that He not only loved us first, when we did not love Him, coupled with the truth that He saves us precisely because we cannot save ourselves is staggering. Left to ourselves, we would not come to Christ even if we could. Thankfully, He came to seek and save us. He calls us and bids us to come, follow Him just as He called the disciples. He draws us to Himself, saving us from this corrupt generation.
It is not just that He died to secure the possibility of salvation for those who would believe, but that He died to save those to whom He gives the faith to believe on Him. My eternal destiny is secure because He chose me and for that I thank Him. On my own, I could not have and would not have chosen Him. Truly, our Lord is the God of salvation.
Again, as part of our research in putting together our newest resource, The 180º Project, we have found some good thoughts concerning biblical repentance. Some of these we share below. While not all of these will make it into our final book, all of them are worthy of contemplation. If you run across any that you would like to share with us, please email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please enjoy”
[Repentance] is not a merely intellectual change of mind or mere grief, still less doing penance, but a radical transformation of the entire person, a fundamental turnaround involving mind and action and including overtones of grief, which result in (spiritual) fruit. — D.A. Carson
Repentance is more than just sorrow for the past; repentance is a change of mind and heart, a new life of denying self and serving the Savior as king in self’s place. — J.I. Packer
Remorse precedes true repentance. Changed behavior follows true repentance. But this necessary prelude and postlude of true repentance are not themselves the essence of repentance. True repentance is a denial that anything in us ever would or ever could satisfy God’s holiness or compel His pardon. We humbly concede that we can offer nothing for what He alone can give. Then we rest in His promise to forgive those who humbly seek Him… Repentance, therefore, is fundamentally a humble expression of a desire for a renewed relationship with God – a relationship that we confess can be secured only by His grace. — Bryan Chapell
Our Lord’s idea of repentance is as profound and comprehensive as His conception of righteousness. Of the three words that are used in the Greek Gospels to describe the process, one emphasizes the emotional element of regret, sorrow over the past evil course of life, metamelomai; Matt. 12:29-32; a second expresses reversal of the entire mental attitude, metanoeo, Matt. 12:41, Luke 11:32; 15:7, 10; the third denotes a change in the direction of life, one goal being substituted for another, epistrephomai; Matt. 13:15 (and parallels); Luke 17;4, 22:32. Repentance is not limited to any single faculty of the mind: it engages the entire man, intellect, will and affections… Again, in the new life which follows repentance the absolute supremacy of God is the controlling principle. He who repents turns away from the service of mammon and self to the service of God. —Geerhardus Vos
It is one thing to love sin and to force ourselves to quit it; it is another thing to hate sin because love for God is so gripping that the sin no longer appeals. The latter is repentance; the former is reform. It is repentance that God requires. Repentance is “a change of mind.” To love and yet quit it is not the same as hating it and quitting it. Your supposed victory over a sin may be simple displacement. You may love one sin so much (such as your pride) that you will curtail another more embarrassing sin which you also love. This may look spiritual, but there is nothing of God in it. Natural men do it every day. —Jim Elliff
As work continues on The 180º Project, research into the topic of repentance continues to yield many treasures. There has been a lot of things written on this topic over the centuries and we hope to coalesce this into a work that will benefit many leaders. One such treasure that we have found comes from Scott Hafemann, from his theological primer. If you find any such gems that you feel might help us in our research on biblical repentance, send them our way at email@example.com. Enjoy his:
Jesus’ gospel of forgiveness is not unrelated to the Bible’s demand for holiness. Obedience is not a “second step” added to our faith, so that “accepting Jesus as Savior” must be supplemented by “accepting Jesus as Lord.” We are not saved by grace and then sanctified (made holy) by our own works. Being a Christian is not a matter of adding our will to God’s, our efforts to His. Rather…”putting away sin,” which is faith in action, is the means to persevering, which we do by depending on Jesus from beginning to end. In other words, repenting from the disobedience of disbelief, and the life of persevering faith that this brings about, which entails obeying God, are all one expression of “looking to Jesus.” One cannot exist without the other… There is only one thing, not two, that we must do to be saved: trust God with the needs of our lives. This one thing in God’s provision (now supremely manifested in Christ) will show itself, from beginning to end, in our many acts of repentance and obedience.
The God of Promise and the Life of Faith. Crossway Books, 2001, p. 191-192.
Many objections have been voiced to me over my belief of irresistible grace. As I listen to the objections, I now realize that there is a complete misunderstanding on the part of my readers who object. Their arguments seem to go along the lines of “so, you believe God will drag some people kicking and screaming into heaven?” What they fail to see is the foolishness of their understanding of grace.
Grace is given to those who do not deserve it, in fact it is given to those who deserve the opposite. The Bible describes mankind as spiritually dead, blind to His glory and light. When God brings salvation to a human soul they are enlightened and see God in His glory for the first time. Their natural response is to gravitate to His glorious light. They are drawn as irresistibly to it as a moth is drawn to a light or a dog to bacon.
It isn’t that they are trying to resist and failing against their will – it is that they are so attracted to the holy pureness and love of God that they run to Him in response to His bringing of new life.
Perhaps it is because of a faulty understanding of salvation that people get confused. Humans do not decide to become “saved”. They are dead, spiritually. Dead people cannot respond to anything. I worked for some years at a funeral home. I took care of many dead people. None of them responded to any stimulus. They showed no initiative. In fact, they just laid there, staring unblinkingly at nothing. That is how the Bible describes people spiritually. Unresponsive, uncaring, unfeeling people who cannot come to God for salvation. So God comes to them and gives them a new heart. He “quickens” or makes the soul come alive. As this new life is imparted, the soul sees its Creator and responds in faith to the One who has just resurrected it. We respond just as Lazarus did. Laying in the tomb, cold, unfeeling, dead, Lazarus heard His Lord call him to life and the response was instantaneous. This is irresistible grace. This is why Scripture says we are saved by grace, through faith — not by faith through grace. Grace come first.
Ta Ethne is proud to announce that the next chapter of our next book, Dominos, A Dynamic Commentary on the Epistle of Jude, is now available with study guide here on our site. Simply click on the Bible Study tab to the right or use the following link: https://taethne.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/dominoes-a-dynamic-commentary-on-jude-chapter-1-plus-study-guide.pdf