Thursday, December 2, 2010

Prayer and Listening to God Part 4: Before We Go On; Prayer is a Rich Fellowship With God

((This is Part 4 of a series of posts on Prayer and Listening to God. Click here for Part 1).

In the previous article in this series, I said that I would offer a few quick guidelines for interpreting Scripture, and then look at some Scripture passages that have been used as "proof" that we should expect God to speak directly to us. I need, though, to stop here for a minute and say a few things about the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and in the believer's prayers.

In making the case that we are not to listen inwardly for God's voice, whether in prayer or at any other time (for this is the case I'm trying to make), I am not, not, not saying that we do not enjoy rich fellowship and communion with God in prayer and in other times, too.

This rich fellowship and communion with God is through the activity of the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15, "by whom we cry 'Abba, Father'"). The Spirit's work is to assure us that we are God's own. But how does he do this? The Holy Spirit is also the Spirit of truth. The reason He is called this is that He always works in tandem with the truth, i.e., the word of God (John 17:17). He assures us of our adoption as sons through the truths of Scripture. We are born again by the Spirit's work of regeneration, granting us faith to believe through hearing the truths of the word of God (Romans 10:17). The Spirit came for the express purpose, according to Jesus in John 14, of teaching the disciples and bringing to their remembrance all things Jesus had said to them (John 14:26)- which He did-and they wrote all that He said down as Scripture. The Spirit is all about Christ and His words (John 15:26, John 16:13-15).

So when we understand that the Holy Spirit is all about the word of God and the teaching of Christ in fulfilling His role to us as Comforter and Helper, then it's easier to see that knowing and understanding the Bible is hugely important in benefiting from the Spirit's ministry to us. It's a sobering thing, but God has made it so that when we don't know what the Bible teaches we may suffer the loss of the joy and comfort of the Spirit. John Piper has said that Scripture is like kindling that is ignited by the Holy Spirit to inflame our faith. This is true, and God has so designed it that without the kindling of Scripture, our faith will not burn as brightly and warmly. This is how we enjoy the rich fellowship and communion of the Spirit. The Spirit loves, promotes and ignites the word of God in our hearts.

But verses and chapters and books of Scripture have to be understood correctly before they can be kindling used by the Spirit for our help and comfort, because they're not just words, they're truths. If we misunderstand a Scripture, whether through an honest mistake or through being mistaught or through our own carelessness, we are misunderstanding a truth. We are missing a truth. We won't be as comforted, encouraged, corrected and trained as we could be, because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth.

 For the true child of God, being confused about the Bible's teaching or just plain neglecting it won't make him "unsaved"; but he will suffer loss, perhaps in his sense of assurance or confidence in the work of Christ or even in how he lives his life. This is a very sobering truth, and I know firsthand that it's so, because I lived much of my Christian life with a lot of this kind of misunderstanding of Scripture. I'm so thankful that God was kind and showed me my error. Most of the things I thought one was supposed to do in order to be close to God, I was astonished to find were just made up stuff, based on man-made ideas and so they certainly didn't really work! I was so surprised to learn that it really was simply faith in Christ's finished work and an understanding of what that meant, based on the teaching of the Bible, that God actually required of me. No more attempts to jump through hoops, no more dog and pony show. The truths taught in Scripture were what the Spirit used to draw me closer to God and Christ.

So, to sum up, there is a richness, an intimacy, a life-changing knowledge of God to be had in the ministry of the Spirit through the word of God. And that's the very reason I'm writing against the practice of listening inwardly for his voice, as taught by so many today. It teaches us to bypass the Scriptures, where we really do hear Him speak, and which is the kindling the Spirit uses to ignite a warmer and more confident faith. Seeing prayer and the Holy Spirit's work in a false way will rob you of what is really available to you when you cling to his promises in trust, look to him for his mercy, fear him for his excellent greatness, and tremble at his word, the Scriptures (Isaiah 66:2).

So, please keep in mind as you read this series of posts that prayer, though not a time for listening inwardly for God's voice, is meant to be a time for fellowship with God, helped by his Spirit as you pray in accordance with his word. Next post, I hope to get back to dismantling, as best I can, the wrong stuff, in the hopes of making more way for the good stuff. We'll look at guidelines for correctly interpreting Scripture, and we'll look at examples of misinterpreted texts that have led to the notion of our listening for God's voice (starring one of the biggies, the much-misunderstood "still, small voice").

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to share your thoughts, questions and ideas in the comments.

Please click here for Part 5.


Tami said...

Good stuff! Thank you Jeri.

Jeri Tanner said...

And thanks for your encouragement, Tami.