Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Monday, 8 August 2022:
The readings in Judges for today and tomorrow address two essential attributes of a disciple of Christ: discipline and humility:
Today’s focus is discipline:
Judges 7:4 — “The people are still too many. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there.”
There is a difference between being willing and being worthy. God sifted 32,000 to find 300 who were both willing to follow God’s lead into the fight and who possessed the inner strength, courage, and discipline to be entrusted with the task. Within the original 32,000 who formed for battle with Gideon, only 10,000 were willing to stay when given a choice. However, at the watering hole, only 300 proved to have the character to participate in God’s great battle.
Desert thirst revealed the discipline, self-control, and fortitude of the troops (or lack thereof). Most of the troops, inwardly focused, lost their bearing at the watering hole, abandoned their security posture and essentially dove into the water; meanwhile, 300, who were just as thirsty as the others, knelt at the water, likely with weapons in hand at the ready and, in a controlled, disciplined manner, drank calmly. These 300 revealed the strength of character required for God’s service.
God wanted his people to understand that it was His power, not theirs, that would bring victory, but He would use their discipline, courage, and obedience in the process, giving them the opportunity to experience Him in a way few others would. Discipline, daily sacrifices required to maintain and develop character over time, is an act of faith, which God will honor. Disciples have discipline.
- 1 Corinthians 9:27 — But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
- Proverbs 6:23 — For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life….
- 2 Timothy 1:7 — For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
After God’s sifting, the 300 took the signaling devices (trumpets and torches) used for directing 30,000+ troops and surrounded the Midianites in the middle of the night. When Gideon’s 300 broke the jars concealing the torches, shouted, and blew their trumpets, the Midianites and their allies believed they were being attacked on all sides by 30,000 (each trumpet and torch was perceived to be a leader directing the night movement of 100 troops as was the tactic of the time); in their panic they turned on each other and fled. Gideon’s army then pursued the enemy as far as they could. Over 120,000 enemy were killed. This bold and daring shock attack required perfect execution on the part of every member of the 300. They had to be wholly reliable. They had to have uncommon discipline, courage, and commitment. They had to be more than willing to serve God, they had to be worthy. The difference was discipline. The discipline of a true disciple.
Discipline is the force multiplier and game changer that separates the strong from the weak. Discipline (self-control) is the fruit of the Spirit that draws from your true passions, your desire to love Jesus rather than to seek comfort. Discipline is developed day-by-day but pays off when the hard times or big challenges come. If you don’t develop your discipline today, you won’t have it when you really need it. “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.” (Proverbs 24:10)
Luke 11:2 – “And he said to them, ‘When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.’”
Genuine prayer honors God as LORD and honors Him as Holy. Genuine prayer starts by placing God at the center and not self. Are your prayers focused on what God wants and on bringing Him glory, or are they focused on what you want?
Luke 11:4 – “…and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”
When Jesus taught The Lord’s Prayer, He was making a point about self-examination, self-centeredness and forgiveness. He was saying, put God first, be content with what God gives you, and forgive others in the same way you want God to forgive you.
Luke 11:11-13 — What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
I love these verses in Luke because, as a father, I can relate. There is no way to describe the love I have for my kids even though my heart is hard. How much more love does the perfect Father who IS love give to us? God’s love for us is truly indescribable and unfathomable, and nothing can separate us from His love, not even us. Everything that happens to us in our lives is filtered through His love, though at times it may not seem that way. We cannot understand why God sometimes allows bad things to happen to us, but we can trust that God is Semper Fidelis (Always Faithful) in His love for us. He will never leave you or forsake you.
Luke 11:13 – If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
Jesus says that what we should be begging God for is the Holy Spirit, unity with Him.
Luke 11:24-26 — When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.
How much worse off are you when you return to the sins for which you have already asked God for forgiveness through the Holy blood of Jesus?
Luke 11:28 – But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’
Hearing the word is not enough. Bible study is very important but not enough. We must be both hearers and doers of the word. James 1:22 warns, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” If you study God’s word but don’t do God’s word, you deceive yourself into thinking you are somehow better than you really are. Don’t be deceived.
Luke 11:29 – When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.”
God is not obliged to prove Himself to wicked men, and even if He did, they would still reject Him. Asking for a sign reveals a hardened heart. When Jesus sent His disciples out two-by-two, He told them not to waste time with the hard hearted but to focus on the receptive.
Luke 11:33-36 — No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.
In today’s readings from Luke, Jesus addresses several spiritual issues which are more than relevant to us today, and He identifies the cause of all these problems (and all of life’s other problems) as well as the remedy:
First, Jesus addresses the disciples’ struggle in prayer — “Lord, teach us to pray…. (Luke11:1) Have you ever felt like your prayer life was empty and powerless? Then, Jesus deals with crowds who didn’t know what to make of His power and wanted Him to give them a special sign from heaven. (Luke 11:15-16) Have you ever questioned God and asked Him to give you a sign of validation? Next, Jesus addresses people who work and work to clean up their lives and become better people but who only get worse and worse. (Luke 11:24-26) Have you experienced that with yourself or with others?
Then Jesus challenges the idea that spirituality and goodness are the product of external factors, heredity or environment. (Luke 11:27). Have you ever felt in some way controlled by your past or your circumstances? Have you ever used your past, your upbringing, or your circumstances as excuses to justify your shortcomings?
Later, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees and lawyers for acting ‘good’ without really being good, outwardly doing all the ‘right’ things without any real love, preferring rules over kindness and mercy, and acting righteous while really being frauds, spiritually dead. (Luke 11:37-52) Have you ever lived a double life, acting kind to people you really couldn’t stand or hiding sin in your life from others as if you weren’t sinning? Have you ever appeared bright and shiny outwardly to others in order to hide from them the darkness inside of you? Have you ever condemned people for sinning while justifying your own sin?
Sandwiched in between His teachings on all these spiritual problems, Jesus explains through metaphor both the cause and the cure – “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.” Matthew further records Jesus saying, “If your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23)
Interestingly, Matthew records Jesus making the same statement about the eye, the lamp, and the light but within the context of different spiritual problems – greed and worry over financial security and the concerns of this world. Matthew recounts these specific issues because Matthew was the tax collector, and despite the fact that he was one of Jesus’ twelve select disciples, and despite the fact Jesus was addressing a large crowd of people including hypocritical Pharisees, Matthew took Jesus’ message to heart personally rather than deflecting the message towards someone else. Likewise, we should understand that Jesus’ words today are meant for us personally, and we should use this opportunity to consider the health of our eyes.
So what is the difference between the good eye which fills us with light and the bad eye which fills us with darkness? The good eye is focused on Jesus, and the bad eye is focused on everything else. The good eye sees life clearly, as it really is, through the Truth and Light of Jesus Christ and His word – “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life…. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.’ (John 8:12, 12:46) The bad eye stumbles in the darkness of human reason, self-reliance, and self-righteousness and subsequently misjudges circumstances, people, and God, tripping needlessly over so many things which cannot be seen apart from the Light of Christ. The bad eye searches in the darkness to find life and to understand God, while the good eye walks by the Light of Jesus to know God and have eternal life. Is your life bright or dark? Are you walking confidently in the Light of Jesus, or are you stumbling? If you feel like you are in the dark or surrounded by darkness, put the Light of Jesus on a stand in your life and not under a basket.
When you can’t see the Light of Christ in your life as you should, it is because self is in the way. As the famous Southern writer, Flannery O’Connor once humbly confessed, “Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon… what I’m afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing. I do not know You God because I am in the way.”
Like Matthew in the Bible, O’Connor humbly understood that when we love (focus on) self over God and others, we shield ourselves from the Light which produces life, which causes our lives to truly blossom and produce fruit. When we focus on self over God, we lose ourselves. Or as Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25) God’s greatest commandment for you is that you love Him, “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11) Experience fullness of joy by getting yourself out of the way of God’s Light and by abiding in His love.
What is the surest way to tell if you are walking in the Light and truly abiding in God’s love? Well, the Bible tells us: “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.” (1 John 2:9, 10) Your love reveals your light. To be clear, treating people nicely is not the same as truly loving them, and Jesus said you know you are in His love when you truly, from your heart, love even your enemy. (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27)
So what do we do when, like O’Connor, we realize self is getting in the way of God’s Light? We do what she did: Go to the Lord in prayerful confession, and return our gaze upon Him, His Glory, His love, and His grace. Abide (live) in Him, and let His Light radiate from you to those around you by truly loving them.
- Ephesians 5:13, 14 — But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
- Ephesians 5:8 — …for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light
- James 1:17 — Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
- 1 John 1:5 — This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
- 1 John 1:7 — But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
- Revelation 22:5 — And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 8 August 22: Today, pray that God will further direct your heart to love, and endeavor to obey Jesus’s commandment to love others as He has loved you. Walk in the light and have no darkness in you. “Let a person examine himself….” (1 Corinthians 11:28) Also, consider your discipline and humility before the Lord. Pray that God will help you abide in Him more fully that you would increasingly bear the fruit of discipline and humility for His glory.