God’s Timing Over Ours

In Acts 16 there is a powerful story illustrating clearly God’s timing over ours.

“As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.”And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. ” Acts 16:16-18 (English Standard Version)

The slave girl was filled with a spirit of divination, the Greek word used is pythonissa, meaning she was possessed with such a spirit of divination and likely part of the delivery of oracles of Apollo at Delphos. Such diviners “often dictated ambiguous answers to those who consulted, which served to gratify their vain desire of knowing things to come, but often deceived them.” (Matthew Henry)

The reality is what she was saying was true. Paul and Luke were both servants of God, and they did proclaim the way of salvation. She was right, but she was not speaking in accordance to God’s timing or His will.

So often we may speak the right words of encouragement with the greatest faithfulness to the Bible, but our timing is not according to what God has had it to be proclaimed. I think that is the greatest weakness of our encouragement, when we do not consult God first before we do anything. We may be proclaiming the gospel with the greatest passion and the strongest theology, but if we have not the Holy Spirit, any breakthrough we make is only temporary. We may be as passionate as Billy Graham in our fervour and speak with the boldness of Charles Spurgeon, but if we have not prayer how can we know anyone will be changed from the words we have said.

Moreover, how often are we like the slave girl and speak the right words and live a completely different life elsewhere? She was trying to deter the men from prayer by annoying them when she intercepted the men along the way to a place of prayer. Her message was tainted with the knowledge of the people around that she served Greek gods. Especially across the internet, there is an ability to pretend to have things all together, as if our relationship with God is healthy while our hearts are beating otherwise. While our hearts may be in utmost turmoil, we can post blogs which make us seem as if we are growing in joy in Christ.

Charles Spurgeon once preached a sermon that he felt was horrid, filled with stammering, he felt that it was a complete failure in what he did. That night after the sermon he prayed to God, “Lord, God, You can do something with nothing.  Bless that poor sermon.” Throughout the next week continually he prayed that prayer day and night.

He became determined in his next sermon to preach a great sermon. That is what happened, with him being praised highly by the listeners of the sermon that night. He was pleased by himself and slept soundly knowing that he had accomplished a difficult task. Coming back and watching the results of the two sermons, he was able to trace 41 souls saved through the poor sermon, while not one was saved through his successful one.

There is something wonderful in the way that God takes our best moments and shows us how helpless we are. While our worst of times, we find that God is the one that brings goodness back onto us. The slave girl may have spoken the right words, but if not backed up with God’s timing and will for how the events in the world should unfold. Without the primary sanctifying working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, speaking words of truth are nothing more than the Devil working. How often do we destroy the work of the Kingdom by not seeking and surrendering to God first? How often does Satan want to instil in us a sense that we are sufficient and complete in our current state?

 

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What does it mean to be good?

What’s been on my mind is what is good? I’m not going into the philosophy of it all, but I will assume that God is the originator of good and evil. So, I want to talk from a Christian worldview, what is it to be good?

From a concordance check that I went through, a lot of the Bible talks of what is good and bad, especially in the Old Testament, of a set of laws, mostly the Mosaic law, that God gives us as a measure. For example in Deuteronomy after Moses repeats the law to the stubborn Israelites, he concludes:

“Be careful to obey all these words that I command you, that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God.” Deuteronomy 12:28 (English Standard Version)

So, what we can see is that the law was definitive in the Old Testament as to what was supposed to be God. But where in Old Testament the notion of good and evil is veiled and portrayed as only a collection of following laws. In light of the New Testament, we know now that the law sheds the truth that in reality we aren’t perfect and that we are not inherently good at all. Living in a New Testament context, we have the full revelation that Jesus is the good person who did not break any laws, died for us. Then, through his sacrifice on the cross we know that he alone is good, how then shall we live if we are already good in Christ?

With the ceremonial laws dissolved, we still have the civil law of God to follow which gives us the terms which God sets out for us to follow.  what does it mean to be a good person inside the new covenant? My suggestion is that while Jesus fulfils OT law and resolves what it does; ultimately Jesus shows what evil is:

Anything apart from God.

When Adam and Eve sinned, they lost connection with God’s way of life, and subsequently they could no longer live in the Garden of Eden. There was a spiritual disconnection from God. While man cannot fill this void, only Jesus Christ can. Since God is the one who initiates salvation (John 10v.3), then how can we begin to do anything that is pleasing to God in the slightest? It’s like a man trying to build a castle without any stones. He can build his sand castles only so long before the wind blows them away.

One story I found illustrative of my point is in the OT. The context of the passage is a celebration of the Ark of the Covenant is occurring with a good ole party happening in the place:

“And David and all the house of Israel were making merry before the LORD, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.”And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled.”And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God.” 2 Samuel 6:5-7 (English Standard Version)

The motives of Uzzah was good in the story, he was trying to stop the ark of the covenant falling to the ground. But ultimately, his hands were unclean and he shouldn’t have stopped the Ark from falling because it wasn’t consistent with God’s holiness. Therefore, God struck him down, clean and simple like that…some might call it harsh, but it was totally just and already outlined in the law.

As Christian we can live one way, but not seek to glorify God as the ultimate ends. It’s too easy to fall back unto pleasing ourselves and therefore manipulating God’s gifts to us. While we still have the will to do stuff, if it isn’t what God has led us down it is utterly meaningless.

Even with Bill Gates and his foundation, though he is doing a great work for the world, his foundation gives a lot of money to good causes, no doubt. He still isn’t doing good in the absolute sense because he isn’t glorifying God. My analogy is like building a village, but there is a huge difference between building a village for the enemy or for the kingdom of God. Without God we are just building kingdoms to be torn down again when Jesus comes back again.

I guess this post was influenced when I said something similar that nothing is good unless done in God. The conversation occured in the comments section of a post somewhere on Xanga, I don’t remember the post. And I got bashed by a few people, I didn’t really try to fight back too much but I hope that all made sense where I’m coming from. I think the post that it was talking about was about atheists doing good works, and I countered that it wasn’t done at all in glory of God to bring him glory at all.

As Christians it is too easy to live lives that are externally good, we can give 10% of our gross income and continue to live our ways in a ‘good’ type of way. We can feed children in Africa, give some groceries to the food bank every Monday, drop a few coins into the offering bag as it goes by and volunteer outside the abortion clinics. While they are all good things, if not done with God’s glory in mind, it will be as filthy rags to God, because we are trying to earn our own salvation.

“And Samuel said,“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,as in obeying the voice of the LORD?Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,and to listen than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel 15:22 (English Standard Version)