People who respect the LORD also listen to his servant. That servant lives completely trusting in God without knowing what will happen. He really trusts in the LORD'S name and depends on his God.
'You've all lit a fire and helped the flame grow, then you were drawn to its light toward the very flame that you kindled! Because of me this has happened to you, and you'll spend your nights in distress!' (Isaiah 50:10-11 ERV, 2001)
This verse came to my heart as I was waking up this morning. The more that I meditate and listen to the Spirit about this the more clearly I see a number of things that I want to grasp much more deeply and securely.
I see myself and nearly everyone around me caught in a trap that God is longing to release us from, and into a radically different relationship with Himself. Yet particularly in Western culture, we have been deeply ingrained with the philosophy of Greece and Rome in which religion is primarily an external affair. We talk about the heart, but unfortunately our experience fails to grasp the true experience of the heart. We are content with a shallow religion of the head. In fact, many feel extremely threatened by talk of real heart work and being led by the Spirit. We want to keep things concerning our spirit under heavy guard by our intellect for fear that we might be led in a direction where our reason may not remain totally in control. And losing control is anathema for acceptable religion in many minds.
While there are certainly dangers of being deceived by indulging in emotional-based religious experiences that reject intelligent examination of what is true based on biblical guidance, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that it is just as easy if not much more to mistakenly place reason in the place of God's Spirit and believe we are in right relationship with Him. There is so much fear of aspects of spirit life that we can't understand with our intellect that many I am afraid, are rejecting the very Spirit that Jesus sent to lead us into much fuller truth. For it is not cognitive truth that can save us from the deceptions of sin but the Spirit who is the truth who has to salvage us from an intellectual trap of self-conceit and false assurance.
As I looked at various translations of these verses this morning it became clear that there is much human prejudice that has influenced very many passages in the Bible in favor of both dark views about God's character of love and the kind of relationship that God longs for us to have with Him. I chose two versions that seemed to best fit the version of God that Jesus came to reveal to us to highlight what I sense God wants to convey in this passage.
What I see here is both a warning and an invitation. I also see a contrast between two kinds of living and thinking and relating to God. One involves trusting God with our heart whether or not life makes sense to us, tuning into the true Spirit sent by Jesus who's job is to lead us into a life of complete trust. On the other hand, I also see a description of what I believe is one of the most common traps of the enemy who has subtly led so many into thinking they are walking in the light while actually living in deep deception. Of course they will strongly resist any such suggestion because they are so confident that their knowledge of Scripture, their ability to interpret and apply the Word of God is so highly refined and efficient that there is simply no need to question their position in relationship to God.
What does this passage mean when it refers to light of our own kindling? And why does it have such impact on our relationship with God? Is this implying that we are actually confident that we are walking in the light of God's presence when in reality we are walking in a light of our own logic, reason and higher education?
I became aware some years ago of significant insights about how the Bible uses the idea of fire. Many are beginning to come to see that the way Scripture speaks of fire is in stark contrast with the ugly, even horrific opinions about God promoted by popular religions today. For too long Satan has successfully convinced billions of people that God is sadistic, cruel, heartless and downright sick in the way He relates to those who spurn His love. Millions believe that God threatens to torture in literal flames of searing pain any who do not cooperate with His offer of salvation. Nothing could be farther from the truth; yet these lies resonate strongly with some because in reality they secretly want to justify their own sick desires to use force and intimidation to promote their opinions and gain control over other minds and hearts.
I have come to learn that in the Bible, the terms wrath, fire and such related words actually refer to emotional realities most of the time rather than physical realities. Because the pain and agony one can suffer from literal burns are so similar to the kind of suffering that can be produced by mental and emotional trauma, God uses this language to communicate important truths about the dangers we face if we turn away from His love and spurn His protection from the enemy of our souls.
Fire is also associated closely with light, which in turn is most often a symbol of truth. The idea of fire I have found, very ofter refers to God's passion. I also came to realize that passion is actually a neutral word by itself and always has to be understood in context to find what it really is speaking about. It is very hazardous to assume that passion is always referring to something negative. Passion in and of itself is neither negative or positive; rather it is more like a super-charger – like oxygen to fire. Passion is an intensifying factor for whatever else it is connected with so that whatever emotion is connected to it, that emotion becomes exponential in power and effect.
Consider the fact that there can be quite opposite emotions that both can have enormous passion connected to them. We are rather familiar with human anger. When intense passion is added to the fuel of anger it can turn into what we call white-hot rage where a person loses all control of their normal restraints and turns into something of a demon willing to do any amount of violence against those who oppose them. There is no shortage of examples of such passion.
But consider also the opposite potential for passion. If you do not have warped views of sexuality like Satan has sought to infuse in our minds, particularly through conservative religions, you can be aware that passion can be a very powerful motivator for bonding people within the God-blessed confines of a healthy marriage relationship. To imagine a young couple falling in love with each other and looking forward to getting married, to insist that they not allow any passion to affect their feelings is to deny the very design that God put into humanity. In fact, true love without ever experiencing feelings of increasing passion raises serious questions about the authenticity of such love.
So back to the fire. I have come to see that many times references to fire in the Bible actually often involve the idea of passion being involved. Then it becomes vitally important that we have a proper understanding of the real truth about the character of the one it is being applied to, especially when that one is God. When we embrace lies of the enemy that God sometimes becomes angry – and anger like human anger – then when you add the amplifier of passion you get the sordid views of God so widespread among Christians but that drive people away from God rather than attract sinners towards Him.
In this verse however, I see something else from the problem of what we think about God's passion. What I see here is a counterfeit passion passing off as the genuine. I see a counterfeit version of truth that looks compellingly like the real thing. For any counterfeit is completely pointless if it does not have great potential to convince us that it is the original. That means that whatever the original thing is that being counterfeited, the original must have significant power that a counterfeit relies on to draw attention to itself. Every counterfeit is like a parasite: it has to rely on the power of the real and also be very close in appearance to the real for it to even be effective.
So as I ponder this last verse about fire of our own kindling, I see a number of very important factors that are vital to understand if we want to avoid coming up to the end and discovering that we missed the point completely. This is an ever-present danger that I am frequently reminded of in my spirit and that Jesus exposed in His teachings.
Thus you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?' Then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.' (Matthew 7:20-23 NRSV)
What could be the kind of light being warned against in the passage from Isaiah? What kind of light, what assumptions about truth might be relied on for salvation that could turn out to produce the opposite results from what we expected? And more importantly, how can we avoid being deceived by this most subtle decoy of the enemy? I do not want my pride in thinking I know all about 'the truth' to fool me into being among this group of people Jesus spoke about who were shocked to find themselves on the wrong side of the city walls.
Look again at the passage we began with above.
People who respect the LORD also listen to his servant. That servant lives completely trusting in God without knowing what will happen. He really trusts in the LORD'S name and depends on his God.
This is a description of people who are walking the way God desires us to walk through life, even when things seem very dark and unexplainable around them. They come to really trust in the name of God and depend on Him. The name of God almost always refers to His character. And we are finding that the more accurate our views are becoming of the true character of the One who is described as total agape love, the more readily we can depend on Him even when we have no clue about what will happen in our lives.
This is the kind of person Jesus was thinking about when He was talking to those who thought they had it all together because they knew all the facts, were doing all the 'right' things and were doing everything according to religion. Jesus made it very clear in that parable that what He really longs for, and the only thing that will really make the difference between life and death in the end, is to know God. But as we have mentioned repeatedly, this knowing spoken of by Jesus here and also in this first verse from Isaiah, is an intimate kind of knowing, a knowledge of the heart and spirit which far surpasses all ability of the mind to even comprehend.
I am reminded of something I read last night from a book I am reading that touched on this very thing.
The teaching of the New Testament is that God is Spirit, and as such, He is known by revelation (spiritual insight) to one's human spirit. Reason and intellect can cause us to know about God. And they help us to communicate what we know. But they fall short in giving us spiritual revelation. The intellect is not the gateway for knowing the Lord deeply. Neither are the emotions. In the words of A. W. Tozer: “Divine truth is of the nature of spirit and for that reason can be received only by spiritual revelation.... God's thoughts belong to the world of spirit, man's to the world of intellect, and while spirit can embrace intellect, the human intellect can never comprehend spirit.... Man by reason cannot know God; he can only know about God.... Man's reason is a fine instrument and useful within its field. It was not given as an organ by which to know God.” (Pagan Christianity p. 206)
What the author above speaks of as 'man's reason' is what I believe God spoke of in Isaiah in the second part of the original quote above.
'You've all lit a fire and helped the flame grow, then you were [drawn] to its light toward the very flame that you kindled! Because of me this has happened to you, and you'll spend your nights in distress!'
We have lit many fires of our own – fires of human wisdom, fires of knowledge, fires of intense research even into the Bible. But when those fires of knowledge are not a fire like what God intends for us to live by – an intimate kind of knowing that leads to trusting Him from the heart whether or not we think we understand what is going on in our lives – then life lived in the light of such fires leads us to the great surprise of those Jesus was speaking to in His parable above.
Light of human devising, of human religious knowledge can closely resemble the light of truth because it can be derived from exhaustive study of Scripture. Yet it is light that has no saving power to transform the heart. I sense strong conviction as I ponder this, for it is so easy to overlook this truth in eagerness to pursue my own agenda, cling to familiar versions of truth without giving enough attention to the serious warning of God in this verse, warnings reinforced throughout the Bible.
Trust in God from the heart cannot be produced simply by knowing enough information. Trust, faith, belief (all the same in the original language) come from getting to know someone who is worthy of trust. That's why the saved are seen in the book of Revelation as repeatedly singing about how worthy God and His Son are in their opinion. This is because they are among those who have come to know Him at the heart level and with their spirit, so much so that saving faith is awakened in them. Any faith that is not spontaneous is suspect at best. Saving faith – faith that transforms one's whole outlook, attitudes and especially perceptions of God only comes from an inner awakening that must happen at a place within the soul that is far deeper than the intellect can ever reach or even comprehend.
Jesus was constantly confronted by religious experts of Scripture who were certain that their views of God and truth were more in line with right than the uncomfortable teachings and example of Jesus. Because they were so convinced that their beliefs about truth were superior to any others, Jesus had to warn them of the dangers of over-dependence on intellectual knowledge gained from expertise in religion at the expense of a humble willingness to be mentored by a humble, apparently uneducated home-builder from a dubious social background.
You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39-40 NIV)
All of these passages are warning us about the same danger. Many, many people remain caught in the trap of intellectual certainty that they have 'the truth' and that as long as they know the right answers they are good to go. There are many variations of this problem that range from intense legalism to complacency based on an assumption that 'Jesus paid it all so I don't have to do anything but believe.' Yet all of these rely heavily on an intellectual knowledge of what is thought to be truth yet overlook the far more important, life-transforming kind of knowledge only realized through a daily, intimate, growing relationship at the heart level with a God who designed us for love.
I want to mention at least one more item that became evident as I perused various versions of this passage. Our heart opinions about what God is like and how He wants to relate to us have everything to do with our ability to connect to Him with the kind of knowing that Jesus was speaking of to the incensed religious performers. Nearly every other version of this text I came across infers something quite different about God's attitude toward people who are confused about what He expects from them. I will share one of the versions here as an example.
Go ahead and walk in the light of the fires you have set. But with his own hand, the LORD will punish you and make you suffer. (Isaiah 50:11 CEV)
The views of God as one ready and even eager to punish all who don't agree with Him is a direct belief derived from corrupted human assumptions about God inspired by the great deceiver. These sorts of views about God are so pervasive in every religion on earth that most have no idea that they are actually insidious perversions of truth designed to drive souls away from salvation. We must be very careful we listen to the right Spirit when we come to a study of Scripture or we can easily find ourselves in a condition very much like that of the Scribes and Pharisees whom Jesus warned. They were indeed experts in the Word of God, but they were trusting in a fire of their own making – strange fire as it is called in the Old Testament – because they relied on human reasoning powers alone to arrive at what they were sure was truth. All the while the very embodiment of the whole truth was being scoffed at and rejected by most of them.
Nothing has changed much today. Humanity is still addicted to the Tree of Knowledge...intellectual knowledge. In my own heart I have felt increasingly convicted that even in my pursuit of a much better picture of God, that unless my heart is softened and absorbs and connects with the realities of the truths that I am learning about Him, all my knowledge could still prove to be of no use for the salvation of my soul. It is not enough to just know about God, as useful as accurate information can be to bring us closer to truth. Unless my spirit comes into a connected relationship with God's Spirit and I live as a humble child of God being led by His Spirit each day (Romans 8:14), I may be found to be walking in light that is insufficient to prepare me for living in the presence of the blazing light of the fire of God.
Put me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, jealousy is as severe as Sheol; its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD. Many waters cannot quench love, nor will rivers overflow it; if a man were to give all the riches of his house for love, it would be utterly despised. (Song of Solomon 8:6-7)
Father, I come again to seek Your face, to know Your heart, to resonate with you through Your Spirit even while my mind continues to seek better head knowledge of the truth about You. Father, please cleanse me of lies about You that keep me afraid of coming closer to You and responding in obedience more consistently. Make me more attuned to the education of my heart through messages you bring to my spirit that parallel the education of my mind that You have been doing for many years. Draw out deeper affections for You as You seek to wean them from lesser gods that I still rely on too much in order to feel good about myself. Remind me of the real truth about how You feel about me, how You see me and the unquenchable passion of Your love for me that can never be diminished by anything in heaven or earth.
Thank-you for making me aware of my need to pay attention to Your heart as much as other kinds of truth so that when Jesus comes in person I may be found with those who are excited to see Your face and eager to be with You in person.
Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him. (1 John 2:28-29)