Today's blog is a little different from the usual! The topic is "Ancient Letter-Writing Practices," and it is an interview with Professor AnneMarie Luijendijte of Princeton University by Harvard Divinity School Professor Laura Nasrallah. It includes an intriguing peek at some ancient papyri from Princeton University's collection. For anyone interested in understanding more about first-century Christianity and how letters - including Paul's biblical texts - were circulated, this is a must-see!
When reading the Bible from an inspirational point of view, most of us don't put a lot of thought into how the Scriptures came into being. We know that there was a process of canonization by the church, of course, but what we often don't consider is that the Bible as we know it is really a collection of ancient letters gathered from many varied authors and sources. Knowing this does not change our faith in any way; in fact, the longer I have studied the various texts and manuscripts, the more appreciative I have become of the hand of God in preserving detailed accounts, or "inscriptions," of our faith. The location, preservation, and compilation of so many scrolls and manuscripts into one cohesive, inspired whole is miraculous in itself. As you listen to this YouTube video, think about the letters of Paul and the context in which he and others were communicating. It is fascinating! Grab a cup of coffee - the video runs about 25 minutes - and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! :-)
If you’re like most Christians, one of your biggest questions is probably, “How do I know the will of God?” It can feel pretty frustrating, at times, to try to communicate with a God who is largely unseen and (most of the time) not speaking audibly! Why doesn’t God just give us a sign when we need it, or be a little more obvious about His intentions? After all, we are trying to obey Him! And life is complicated enough without attempting to figure out how to follow an invisible God into His will.
Believe it or not, there is a way to know the will of God. And – big surprise – He has outlined how to do it in the Bible. In order to follow Him successfully, we need one thing: wisdom.
The Hebrew word for wisdom (Strong’s #8454: “tuwshiyah”) is defined as “sound and efficient wisdom, or abiding success.” I like that. Abiding success sounds good to me, when most of the time life seems very unstable! Another definition of wisdom (this one by Merriam-Webster online) is “good sense or judgment,” or the “knowledge gained by having many experiences in life.” The good news is that you don’t need to be old to get wisdom. There is Someone who has already experienced everything you and I will ever experience in this life, and His name is wisdom!
Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom; I am understanding, I have strength.
With Him are wisdom and strength, He has counsel and understanding.
The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him (Jesus), the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
Jesus is the beginning and end of all wisdom. He created us, He knows how we’re wired, He knows where we’re going, and He can tell us how to get there. A related verse is Proverbs 9:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
The first step to knowing God’s will is to begin a relationship with Him. Relationship is necessary to hear and understand His voice. We cannot truly hear or follow someone whose voice we do not know.
For example, at Passover the disciples had just been told that Jesus would be betrayed and would leave them. The plan of resurrection was not yet clear to them, and they were asking questions of Jesus during the meal. Thomas asked the question that many of us still ask today: “Lord, we do not know where you are going, and how can we know the way?” Jesus’ reply was this: “I AM the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:5) So He tells us that knowing Him is the first key to finding the path we should walk on. (He also hints, in case you missed it, that our ultimate goal is to come into relationship with the Father!)
The disciples who were with Jesus had the benefit of speaking directly with Him, but how do we know God will speak to us, now that Jesus no longer walks the earth? We have promises from His Word. John 10:4 says that Jesus’ sheep (that’s us!) follow Him because they hear His voice. And Psalm 32:8 says: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you (counsel you) with My eye upon you.” In other words, all of us have the spiritual ability to hear God.
Later in the New Testament, however, Paul and Timothy were praying, asking that the believers at Colosse “be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and understanding…” (Colossians 1:9). Why would they pray for wisdom if believers already had it? I believe this is the million-dollar question for believers, one that will lead us into the deepest, most powerful life we can live. They prayed because they knew that there is a supernatural understanding that must be activated in order for believers to fulfill their ultimate callings in the Kingdom of God: the second step to knowing His will.
Look at the disciples again, post-resurrection. In Luke 24, Cleopas and another disciple were walking along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, “conversing” and “reasoning.” They were discussing between themselves all the things that had recently happened. Their eyes were said to be “restrained,” so that even when Jesus drew near to walk with them, “they did not know Him.” (Luke 24:16, NKJV). Remember these are people who did know Jesus, and had traveled with Him and heard His voice for years! Their reasoning was leading them nowhere, though, until Christ “expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” When God’s thoughts became their thoughts, suddenly everything made sense again.
Notice the similarity between the three things that happened in this last chapter of Luke to show us how God guides us:
1. Jesus “opened the Scriptures” to them. Cleopas and the other disciple immediately recognized truth when Jesus explained Scripture and their hearts began to burn within them. (Luke 24:32).
2. Jesus broke bread with them, and “then their eyes were opened and they knew Him.” (Luke 24:31).
3. Jesus later returned to the full gathering of disciples in Jerusalem, talked and ate with them, and “He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:45).
The common denominator in each of these encounters is that Jesus was supernaturally opening the understanding (or the minds) of His disciples, so that they could truly perceive what God’s plan was all about. It was a deeper level of hearing: not just a hearing of the ears but a hearing and understanding by the mind and spirit as well. This kind of hearing is activated by the Holy Spirit alone.
It was not until after the Holy Spirit was released upon all the believers in Acts that the disciples began teaching and explaining the Scriptures to others as Jesus had to them.
Peter’s first recorded teaching in Acts 2 is lengthy enough to show us that He now had a full grasp of the meaning of the life of Jesus and the message of the Kingdom of God, as well as his own place in it. When the Spirit of God came upon Peter, he immediately knew what to preach! And his anointed words now contained the same power that Christ’s words had carried earlier with the two disciples on the road. Peter’s speech cut to the hearts of his listeners (Acts 2:37), and they asked what they needed to do to change and be transformed, as he had been. As many as “received his word” were baptized – about 3,000 people in one day! Now that’s success!
So how do we get Spirit-infused wisdom and abiding success? We ask!
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)
“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13)
God does not withhold any good gifts from His children, and He is delighted when we ask for more of Him! He wants us to know His will, and He has made a way for us to tap into His own eternal wisdom through the Spirit which He released to us at Pentecost. As we pray and ask the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of our understanding, Scripture will come alive to us and He will guide us clearly through His Word.
But what about the trickier, nitty-gritty decisions of life? Is there a way to know which job to take, or how to handle a difficult relationship? Fortunately, the Bible gives us wisdom for those things, too. We can use "checklists" like the ones in James 3:17 or Galatians 5:22-23 to see what walking in wisdom and in the Spirit looks like. It is commonly taught that wisdom brings peace, but godly decisions are also full of the spiritual fruits of love, patience, and mercy. If our course of action is consistent with these qualities, we can be more certain that we are following the Father's heart in our daily situations. We can ask Him to continue to open up our understanding, and He will gladly confirm His Word to us more than once! We will find that this process of knowing Jesus, then coming into relationship with the Holy Spirit, brings us ultimately to the knowledge of the Father, just as Jesus said. And in the end Merriam-Webster is right: the more experiences we have with Him in life, the more we will know His will.
" God promises to speak to those who know Him. "
Deborah Perkins is passionate about helping others connect with God. She writes about knowing God and hearing His voice at His Inscriptions. To follow her blog, Subscribe here
I read a great blog this morning. It wasn’t a blog from the usual online blogosphere, nor was it written by one of today’s biblical experts. But this guy is an expert at understanding God. In fact, the writer is so famous that his blog has been published around the world in nearly every language. The post I read today was actually published in two places (with a few minor changes), so I think it deserves a “retweet” here! You can find the originals in 2 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18.
David is the man whom God calls an expert in “knowing God’s heart.” (See Acts 13:22). Experts commonly write blogs these days, but David was “blogging” in the Psalms long before blogging was invented. He was a forerunner in sharing, in diary form, his thoughts concerning life in God. The genius of David’s “blogs” is that he is so very personable and honest (an endearing factor for his readers) while simultaneously teaching about God and His Word. His psalms contain testimonies, visual imagery, reliable information, stories, personal revelations and feelings – really, everything that a good blog needs.
His posts in 2 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18 are almost identical. They are songs, which were set to music by temple musicians in his time. And they are David’s musings after going out to battle for what was likely the last time with his armies (2 Samuel 21:15-17), as he was growing old.
A man who was losing physical strength in his own body spent his time blogging about the sustaining strength of God. He writes: “For who is God, except the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? God is my strength and power, and He makes my way perfect.” (2 Samuel 22:33, NKJV).
I like the way the Aramaic Targum translates it: “It is God who sustains me with strength.” It reminds me of Isaiah 46:4: “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”
David was very familiar with God’s rescuing power! His psalms chronicle rescues from death, “floods of ungodliness,” his enemies, and violence. He expertise lies in understanding God as both deliverer and sustainer, two of the main attributes of Christ as well: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:3, NIV).
David’s “blog” describes a mighty God who is like a rock and fortress to him. He is a mysterious, thundering, even angry God (Psalm 18:7-15, NIV), yet also supportive, merciful, and gentle (Ps. 18, verses 18, 25, and 35, NIV). The same God who was sustaining David in his Psalm–blogs is still sustaining us today.
I, for one, am encouraged by David’s writings to trust God even for what happens behind the scenes in my life, knowing that He is holding all things together. “The Word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him.” (2 Samuel 22:31/Psalm 18:30, NIV). And I hope David won’t mind me commenting on his blog. :-)
c. Deborah Perkins, 2014
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A severe hearing loss from childhood caused Deborah Perkins to develop what she now calls her secret weapon: tuning in to God's voice. A Wellesley College graduate and an award-winning writer, Deborah is now a wife and mother of 3 boys. Deborah has devoted over 25 years to professional and lay Christian ministry in New England and beyond. Her passion is inspiring people to cultivate greater intimacy with God.