Thursday, March 19, 2009

About the Holy Spirit and the Bible - some old thoughts revisited...

I know I've been a bit quiet here recently, and I thought a word of explanation was due. Somehow God has been opening up to me things that I had neglected. The Spirit has been I guess rather "like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old." (Matthew 13.52)

So, in the spirit of all this, I revisited some of my old writings on The Mercy Site, and I thought I'd share with you some bits I found that seemed to explain something of what's been going on:

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The Bible is far more than an old book about the way things were: "Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens." Psalm 119:89; "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away." Jesus, in Matthew 24:35.

Then, it literally feeds us: "… man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD." Deuteronomy 8:3; "Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation." 1 Peter 2:2.

It guides us in all we do: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path." Psalm 119:105; "The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple." Psalm 119:130.

But it has even more power than that: "I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes." Romans 1:16; "Is not my word like fire," declares the LORD, "and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?" Jeremiah 23.29; "… the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." Ephesians 6:17; "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." Hebrews 4:12.

But if the Bible is to be so much to us, if it is to be our guide and our protection and our weapon and our food, then how can we manage this? Even pocket Bibles are somewhat awkward to have with us every minute of every day, and how can we stop and look up Scripture every time we have a choice to make, every time we are tempted or annoyed or challenged or endangered? The Bible tells us: "These commandments I give you today are to be upon your hearts." Deuteronomy 6:6; "No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and your heart so you may obey it." Deuteronomy 30:14; "I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you." Psalm 119:11; "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly..." Colossians 3:16.

How can the Bible dwell in us like that? How can we learn the whole Bible to use like that?

There is an old tradition in some churches known as learning Memory Verses: certain verses, useful for various situations and circumstances and states of mind we may find ourselves in are committed to memory, using a variety of mnemonic tools well tested over time. That works - until you find yourself in a situation you've never learnt a verse for. Then you get to panic. Or go your own way…

The human mind is a wonderful thing, with capacities far beyond what we mostly expect of it, and abilities the greatest of us hardly begin to tap into. But the Holy Spirit knows all about them, all about the unused 3/4 of the human brain. He also knows all about Scripture. If only we will soak ourselves in the Bible, if only we will read and read, and think about, and pray about, all we have read, if only we will take the time to let the Holy Spirit burn the Word into our minds like the little laser that burns data onto an optical disc, then we will slowly begin to realise for ourselves the truth that the Word of God is in our heart, that suddenly, strangely, we find just the right word for just the situation we find ourselves in, that when we find ourselves tempted to sin, that we can answer, as Jesus did in the desert, "It is written..."

And once this starts to happen, then perhaps the strangest thing begins to happen to us. We start to fall in love, in the oddest way, with the Word of God. We actually start to find we can say, with the author of Psalm 119, "Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long." (v 97) Or with Jeremiah, "...your words… were my joy and my heart's delight, for I bear your name, oh LORD God Almighty." (15:16)

"Listen," said the apostle Paul, "I will tell you a mystery..." I am going to tell you a mystery now. I feel really strange saying this, because it is so great a mystery that it scares me even to think about it. But it is very simple really, it is very logical. The Bible, Holy Scripture, is the Word of God, agreed? Its human authors were so closely inspired by the Holy Spirit that what the wrote down are the very words of God, and the whole canon of Scripture together is the Word of God. And who, or what, is the Word of God? "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." (John 1:1, 14). And what did Jesus say? "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." (John 14:18) He was speaking of the Holy Spirit in this famous passage, but he said. "I will come to you." You see, we can't make artificial distinctions among the persons of the Holy Trinity. God is one: "Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one." (Deuteronomy 6:4) He is God in Three Persons, but he is still One. Take one bit, you've got the lot, if you will forgive my speaking of God like that.

So, if we have the Bible, we have Jesus. He is with us. If we have the Word of God in our hearts, we have Jesus in our hearts. If we obey the commands of Jesus - the commands of God, which the psalmist of Psalm 119 so loved - "[we] will know the truth, and the truth will set [us] free." (John 8:32) - and as Jesus (14:6) is "the way and the truth and the life" we will know him. And the Holy Spirit (16:13) "will guide [us] into all truth."

In one profound sense, Scripture is a perfect circular argument. It is inescapable. Try as we may, we cannot evade or avoid its demands on our life, its profound transformation of our very selves. The Christian life is like a quicksand: one real stride into and you're gone, no way back. Accept one thing, and you've suddenly accepted the whole thing, all its profound and outrageous claims on us, on every second of our time, on every aspect of our lives. We suddenly find we have given it all away, we are not our own any more, and even the very life in us has changed, has been taken over. Nothing will ever be the same again. We've fallen in love, we've taken the step, and there's no way back. And all we can do is press on, with our brother Paul: (Philippians 3:12-14) "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." ...

The Jesus Prayer developed in the years directly after the times described in the Acts of the Apostles, when people - both men and women - went out into the desert to pray, sometimes for many years. They ran into the same problem Paul identifies in Romans 8:26 ("We do not know what we ought to pray for..."), and they searched the Scriptures - including the (at that time, very!) New Testament - for an answer. They found it in the prayers people addressed to Jesus: Peter's "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16); the Canaanite woman's "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!" (Matthew 15:22); the tax collector's "God, have mercy on me, a sinner!" (Luke 18:13). They found themselves praying, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!" and somehow in its repetition it was complete, somehow it both answered and spoke out their hearts' cry, not only for themselves, but for all the aching world and its people...

This intercessory dimension of what is in effect a contemplative style of prayer was a revelation to me, though I had known of the Jesus Prayer for many years. It was not until the Holy Spirit brought it out for me, as it were, and illuminated the scriptures from which it is built, that I began to realise the incredible completeness of the Bible's teaching on prayer. Truly it is inexhaustible - and it is never superseded, never out-of-date. "Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations." (Psalm 119:89-90)

The whole of prayer, just like The Jesus Prayer, is to be founded in the Bible - in the Word of God.

(Slightly edited and adapted from The Mercy Site)

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