Consuming fire

“You’ve got to test it.” I hear this said (though maybe not quite often enough) about words spoken from the pulpit and over a person. This means practising discernment about whether or not to ‘receive’ something we’ve heard, that is, whether to let a certain seed of thought or desire be planted in the fertile soil that is our mind*, or make the conscious decision chuck it in the bin. Does what appeals to our ears necessarily appear for our good?

But then how do you actually test this stuff, is what I wonder. Is there an online quiz you can run these things through? Is there a neat flowchart you can toss the ideas into and get the kernel of truth back, gleaming without dross? Well, no. Apparently, we’ve got to use our brains. But thank God for brains like Christopher J. H. Wright’s, to help us structure our thinking. Quotes below from Knowing the Holy Spirit Through the Old Testament.

Questions to ask of what is produced by the seeds — “we simply must be discerning about all ministry claims and the alleged statistics that so often go along with them”**:

Where is the fruit? Where are the changed lives? Where is the evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit? Where are the people who are now more like Jesus, more committed to the love, compassion, justice and integrity of God and God’s kingdom? (page 74)

Questions to ask of the soil — yourself:

Are you building your whole life, in all its dimensions, on the truth of the Word of God? Is your worldview shaped by the Bible? Is the Bible not merely the object, but the subject, of your thinking? That is to say, the Bible should be not only something we think about, but something we think with. It is to provide the foundations for how we think about everything else and is to be the guide to how we act in all circumstances. (page 80)

Questions to ask of the seeds themselves:

Are you testing all the claims and teachings you encounter — in books, tapes or other media, from the pulpit or from celebrity Christian communicators — by the truth of the Bible? … Scripture is the reality checkpoint to which you should invite all claims for your allegiance to accompany you. … is that what the Bible really says? … is that what the Bible, taken as a whole in context, really means? Is it true to the whole message of Scripture or is it a distortion achieved by twisting one part of the Bible out of context and out of proportion? (page 81)

Questions to ask of the people who sow the seeds:

Are they concerned about justice for the poor and needy? Or do they avoid all such issues on the grounds of ‘staying out of politics’ (and therefore in fact endorsing the political status quo that keeps such people poor and needy)? … if the Spirit of Yahweh called you, it called for the courage to stand for justice.*** (page 85)

* Speaking of the fecund mind, I dig this clear explication of the word heart in the Old Testament: “We must remember that the Hebrew word heart was not so much the seat of the emotions as of the will. Your emotions were located somewhat lower down the body — in your bowels. The heart, in Hebrew idiom, is where you do your thinking, weighing up, deciding and planning. So ‘a man after God’s heart’ means one who will think and do as God chooses, one who will carry out the plans that God has in his mind.” (page 92)

Wanting to be a David — in the sense of him being after God’s own heart, not the whole lusting-after-another’s-and-murdering-the-love-rival thing — isn’t a faraway fantasy after all but just requires consciously living in what Henri Nouwen calls “total and fearless” covenantal obedience to our God and King. Easily done, then?!

** “And, of course, it means that we must also be ruthlessly honest with our own motives and ambitions in ministry.” (page 74)

*** “Mission in the way of Christ, then, is mission that is empowered by the anointing Spirit of God, committed to the justice and compassion of God, characterised by the Servant of God, including even suffering and the way of the cross. Before we pray so glibly (for ourselves or others) for the anointing of the Spirit, perhaps it would be good to remind ourselves what the Bible says that will mean.” (page 120)

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