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Bible study and devotions can become like a treasure hunt for us at times. God can intrigue us with a passage of Scripture by giving us hints of truths we never noticed in that passage before. He may get us "stuck" in a passage, reading it over and over again, day after day for several days in a row. We puzzle over it, aware that there is more to it. We pray for insight, we reread it, we check our cross references, etc. Then God begins to quicken new levels of revelation to us from that passage; we begin to get to know Him and His truth better/deeper through this process. And it feels like we have just uncovered a buried treasure.
God has been doing that a lot for me in the book of John lately. I was stuck on chapter 5 for over a week, and some of the discussions that I had with God on that chapter have been really wild. It feels like the Holy Spirit has been playing with me in this passage. It reminds me of the way you bribe the donkey to let you ride it. You sit on it's back and hold a fishing pole with a carrot on it hanging in front of his nose as you ride him. When the donkey takes a step forward to get to the carrot, the carrot moves with him, so he takes another step... (I am sure you know that image.)
The Holy Spirit has been holding tidbits of new insights from Scripture in front of my nose and luring me deeper into His word. This process has been a lot of fun for me and He reveals more and more of Himself to me. And I believe that He enjoys doing the same thing in all of our lives. One of the ways that we can experience intimacy with God is by reading His word and inviting Him to speak to us on it.
Let me give you an example of what this process looks like, from John 5:32-34. This is where Jesus talked about the witnesses that the Father gave Him to validate or confirm His ministry/message:
32There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true. 33You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved.
It looked like He is saying that God appointed John as a prophet to bare witness of Jesus, but Jesus did not accept that prophet's witness. That did not make sense to me, so I asked Him what was going on. Why would He put a prophetic message in John's mouth, send him as a prophet, and then reject the very message that He gave John to speak? John was supposed to be the greatest of the prophets, and Jesus did not seem to think much of him if He was rejecting John and his message. It made me wonder 'Just how does God feel about His prophets?' So I asked Him, "Why did you send John a s your prophet to testify if You didn't intend on receiving his testimony?"
It really did not make sense to me, so I puzzled over it with the Lord. He took me though a process where He showed me that John's ministry was to man, so man could believe in Jesus. John's ministry was never intended for John to minister to Jesus (e.g., to confirm to Jesus who He is or why He was sent). Jesus already knew Who He was and what His mission was on this earth. The reason that John was sent was not for Jesus' sake, it was for the sake of the people who Jesus would minister to. It was to prepare their hearts so they could receive Jesus and the message that He carried.
John could not minister to Jesus because he was only a man and Jesus was God. Man can't minister to God -- there is nothing that God needs from us that He is not capable of doing on His own. (We can bless God by loving Him, obeying Him, worshipping Him.) But God does not have some needs that He can't meet on His own that man meets for Him. It just doesn't go that direction. He gave me the example of a helpless baby. The baby cannot take care of it's parents, it's parents have to take care of it. But even though the baby is helpless to meet it's parents needs, this little one brings a lot of joy to the parents as it begins to recognize them, speak their names, etc. And it is like that in our relationship with God... we cause Him pleasure and He loves it as we grow in relationship with Him. However, we cannot minister to His needs or do things for God that He can't do for Himself. It will never happen. God always takes care of His own needs, He never looks to the creation to help Him with that.
Somewhere during that conversation, the devil snuck in and imitated God's voice to me. He pretended to be God saying, "I am afraid of what is going to happen to My people." I was startled when God said this to me -- well, it wasn't really God who said that but at the moment I heard it, I thought it was. The devil can be very clever in imitating God's voice to try and deceive us.
I could not imagine why God would say that to me. What response did He want from me? I wasn't sure so I began to ask Him about it. And as I dialogued with God, He showed met that He never said that. God reminded me of that passage from John 5 that I had been puzzling over for days -- the passage where Jesus did not receive John's testimony because God doesn't need help from man. So God asked me if He would need my help if He were indeed afraid. I said "No." Then He asked me if I really thought it was possible for God to be afraid. About then He dropped hints for me by causing many different passages to flash before my memory. There were the verses from Job where God challenged Job and His friends, showing that He was so much bigger and more powerful and more capable than man. There were verses about no one being able to make God do anything He did not want to do and verses about no one being able to prevent Him from doing whatever He choose to do. All sorts of verses about His power and majesty flashed before my mind. Then there were the verses about Him knowing all things and nothing could catch Him by surprise. Those verses made it obvious that no one was capable of making God afraid.
Then God agreed that He knows all things before they happen and has all power, so it would be impossible to catch Him by surprise or make Him afraid. Then He went on to tell me that if something made Him upset or unhappy, He would not turn to man for comfort, He would comfort Himself.
The mental image I had when He said that was that one member of the Trinity would comfort another member of the Trinity. I know that image is not theologically correct, but it tracks with my limited understanding of the Trinity. I know God is a three-in-one and not really three separate people. But it is hard for me to comprehend the Trinity, so in my limited thinking I tend to think of God as three separate beings who are in absolute agreement and work together as one.
I know my understanding is imperfect and not fully accurate, but that is the best that my limited mind can handle. And God seems to meet me in that understanding. He will sometimes interact with me as the Father, at other times He will interact with me as Jesus and at other times He interacts with me as the Holy Spirit. He has told me on more than one time that He is not really three separate people the way I think of Him. But He says that my understanding is "good enough for now" and that He will reveal more of Himself to me later.
(You might think of the Trinity from the other side... where you see Him as one instead of three. If you do, that is ok.. because none of us can fully comprehend what the Trinity really is and we have to put it into a context that we can handle. But I needed to explain my understanding of the Trinity for this story to make sense.)
So back to the story, God told me that if He needed comfort, He would comfort Himself rather than turning to any of His creation for that comfort. So I began to think of those verses from John 14 where Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the comforter (in the King James translation). I tried to put two plus two together. I asked the Holy Spirit if He were the one in the Trinity who comforted the Father or Son if they were upset or unhappy, etc. I added, "After all, that is part of Your title... the comforter. Is that part of your role in the God-head?"
He responded by reminding of the verse about not grieving the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). Then he asked me, "Teresa, if I was the only one in the Trinity who comforted the others, then who would comfort Me when men grieve Me? Don't you think that given the role I play at this present time, I am likely to get grieved when those who I live in don't obey and honor Me?"
Duh! Sometimes I can miss the obvious in my quest for the sublime. Fortunately, God is faithful to point things out to me and keep me on track. But I have to tell you that this week as been so rich and so wonderful as I have been actively puzzling over John 5 with the Lord.
I believe that God wants our Bible study and devotions to become like a treasure hunt. We seek Him in the Scripture, to know Him better, to become more aware of what He is really like, to allow Himself to reveal more of Himself to us. The Holy Spirit wants to interact with us as we read His word. He wants to make our devotions become alive and rich and exciting.
Sometimes our devotions can get dry or boring and feel more like a duty than like a source of life to us. When this happens, it is time to invite the Holy Spirit to come into your devotions and speak to you. He loves to do that! So if you are struggling in that area, then invite Him into it today.