Saturday, January 31, 2009

Knowing him

Today’s thoughts are a follow-up to the previous blog (“THOSE WHO STAY FILLED”). How did the five wise virgins manage to have a constant supply of oil? First of all, what did the “oil” in the parable represent? Zechariah 4:1-9 gives a clear hint. In a vision, he saw seven lamps which were kept burning by a constant supply of oil piped in from two olive trees. The angel’s explanation of this vision was that it was “not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit” that the temple would be rebuilt. So the oil that supplied the lamps was the Spirit.

How can a Christian have a personal supply of the oil of the Holy Spirit instead of having to depend on others to re-supply them? Actually, it’s not really a matter of not having the oil “on board.” The Holy Spirit indwells every believer. But, somehow, there are believers who are more greatly motivated by the Spirit than others. One way to understand this is by considering the example of buying a new product. Once you buy it, it is always available to you. However, this product does not begin doing you any good until you 1) study it—read the directions, try the controls, etc.—and 2) use it to perform some tasks for you. Every time you use it, you become better acquainted with the product’s capabilities and how best to operate it. Eventually, it will have changed your lifestyle to such a degree that you wonder what you ever did without it. . . . On the other hand, it might sit on your shelf and not benefit you in the least.

This analogy falls down in the respect that we don’t “use” the Holy Spirit. We are his followers, making ourselves available to serve him and partner with him. However, in other respects, the above analogy is helpful because it points out that being indwelt by the Holy Spirit has minimal consequences in an individual’s life, unless that person takes it upon himself to learn all about him and to begin—in a daily, personal way—to apply his Word to his life and live in deliberate reliance on Him. As this believer interacts with the Lord in everyday living, his understand of how the Lord operates grows by leaps and bounds. Not only that, his kinship with the Lord deepens tremendously. The oil does not lie dormant in his heart, it flames up continually.

A trademark of such a person is that her faith doesn’t have to be bolstered by someone else. While others are up one day and down the next, she has a fresh supply each day of the joy of the Lord. She has insights into the Word of God that sometimes run counter to what “everyone else in the church” says about it. She is confident in the knowledge of the Lord’s will for her.

How is that different from other believers? Here are some contrasts:

Keepers of the flame have such a rich personal history of God’s provision and grace that they are not dismayed by misfortune—they expect God to come through, as before, in his perfect way.
Passive carriers of the oil are rocked by misfortune. When someone reminds them of God’s promises to help in time of need, they say, “I hope so,” in a tone that says that they don’t really.

Keepers of the flame read in the Word that liars will be thrown in the lake of fire, and react with the “fear of the Lord.” They begin to avoid little deceptions and evasions and whitewashing of the truth. They become confident and fearless witnesses of the Truth.
Passive carriers of the oil read in the Word that liars will be thrown in the lake of fire, and say, “The Lord must not really mean this. After all, all of my Christian friends do it, and I’m sure we are all going to heaven--we have already accepted him as our Savior.” They become weak, compromised Christians.

Keepers of the flame keep their hearts open to the Lord’s leading and enabling in every aspect of their lives. They recognize opportunities to bring Life into everyday situations, and they perform even mundane tasks with divine inspiration and ability.
Passive carriers of the oil are not aware of the Lord very often. They operate on the level of their own agenda, wisdom, and ability most of the time.

Keepers of the flame believe and depend on the Lord and his Word. They love to be in the presence of other believers and learn much from the preaching and testimonies of others. However, they are like the Bereans;* they do not accept anyone’s word as truth until they find out that it is supported by the Word and by the witness of the Holy Spirit.
Passive carriers of the oil depend heavily on the teachings of their church and the (sometimes unspoken) beliefs of their Christian friends. They are mostly unaware that some of these are not Scriptural. They assume their friends know what the Bible says and that, therefore, it is safe to just follow their friends.

Keepers of the flame study every part of the Bible, meditating on the meaning of each passage and asking the Lord to show them how it applies to their own life.
Passive carriers of the oil review the promises of God and other parts of the Bible that are popular in their church, but do not think too deeply about the rest. If they read something that seems to contradict what their church teaches, they tell themselves that there must be an explanation for this. Surely their church’s beliefs are not wrong.

Keepers of the flame are enchanted by the Lord and fellowship with him regularly.
Passive carriers of the oil enjoy the worship and programs of their church—and sometimes sense the Lord’s presence too (usually during a good worship service).

The list could go on and on. The common thread through all of these contrasts is this:

Keepers of the flame interact eagerly, deliberately, and regularly with the Lord in fellowship and by considering his Word. They exemplify these two Scriptures:

I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken (Psa. 16:8 NIV).

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you (Psa 119:11 NIV).

Passive carriers of the oil trust, depend on, and follow many things more than they do the Lord and his Word. They think they are just not very spiritual. They doubt their ability to understand the Word themselves or to hear, and know and relate to God any better.

Their pessimistic beliefs about their ability to follow God joyfully and fruitfully . . . are simply not true. Here’s what true:

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. . . . Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up (James 4:8, 10 NKJV).

Here's my paraphrase for these verses: "make a point of getting to know God better for yourself. He will not hide from you. Purposely clear away the sins and confused thinking that keep you at a distance from him. Be like a child before him, in trust and dependence, and he will make you an amazingly strong and fruitful believer." You will be like the five wise virgins who had a personal—not second-hand—supply of the oil of the Holy Spirit—because you have come to truly KNOW HIM.

And then, besides knowing him better, there’s another side to the wise virgins’ secret. For this, tune in to the next blog where we take a look at the last three verses of this parable.
*Acts 17:11

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