It’s All About Me

by Mike Ratliff

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:3-16 ESV)

I have often written on this blog and elsewhere about the spiritual awakening that God took me through in 2004. I remember vividly, however, being very confused about some things as I went through that. Several years earlier, I had been deeply involved in several men’s studies at a former church that were built around the teachings of Henry Blackaby. I had been through once and led several times the study called “Experiencing God.” One thing that always puzzled me in that study was how cool it was and how “deep” it was in the beginning and then so wrapped up in spiritual or mystical disciplines toward the end because to progress past the initial seeking where God is working then get involved stage, which was always quite exciting for everyone, it got into those parts of self-discipline that most of the men simply shrugged off and didn’t come back. In any case, I used the context of those studies to evaluate or try to understand what God was doing in my life in August 2004. Things just did not jibe together as I thought they should. 

I became frustrated with trying to understand what was going on by “listening” for God’s voice. I went through a stage about a month later in which I became very angry with myself for not praying and listening enough and that was why I couldn’t figure out what God was doing and what I should do. It was through writing two books about this that I was able to nail down into concrete thoughts what I “thought” God was doing and what He wanted me to do. However, I was very wrong. In the process of becoming connected to other Christians on the Internet who were all going through similar spiritual awakenings, I realized that I was most certainly not alone and most of the others were just as confused as I was. I pursued the teachings of Brother Lawrence for a while, but they were very nebulous and did not help me at all. Then I made friends with Ken Silva on the original Slice of Laodicea blog. It was as if God had directed my floundering little ship to a safe port in a raging hurricane.

I am convinced that it was no coincidence that at the same time that happened, God gave me the anchor point in my Spiritual growth from which I finally found the place from which all truth is based and from it He directs our paths and guides us only deeper into His Truth. That anchor point is Sola Scriptura. It was from that point on that the cleansing began in the shedding of all that mystical baggage in my understanding of this Christian Faith. You see, the mysticism and contemplative spiritualism (or whatever you want to call it) stuff is actually a hermeneutic. A hermeneutic is a filter through which the Bible is interpreted. Ken Silva’s latest post on this is a must read. After you read that post, I suggest that you prayerfully go here and see the contrast. As I watched that video and browsed that site, all of the floundering I went through in 2004 until God graciously brought me into the truth came back to my mind in great detail. I recognized that very same mindset from which God graciously rescued me. I also understood how vulnerable the Christian is who is sincerely seeking the spiritual place which God wants for them. If they do not become anchored in His Sovereignty and Sola Scriptura then they are incredibly open to deception.

My goodness, that CSM methodology stuff looks so cool and it is so seductive. It sounds so right. They use all the right words, but notice my brethren how the focus is not God’s glory in our obedience as we are sanctified in the fires of persecution, sickness, and other thorns in the flesh, but on becoming the “Me I want to be.” Paul talked about his own thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. As you read these passages below, notice the progression from spiritual awakening to a crisis in focus then to the fires of sanctification and their purpose. Here is vv1-4, which is God giving Paul visions and understanding.

I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows– and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. (2 Corinthians 12:1-4 ESV)

The boasting Paul is talking about is a continuation of his defense against the false teachers who were tearing up the Corinthian church. Part of their attacks was to try to cast him in a bad light, making him out to be a false apostle while they were the true apostles. Paul’s spiritual awakening, his visions, et cetera were proof that these attacks were from the false while he was authentic. The Greek word Paul used here translated as “boasting” is καυχασθαι, means ‘to vaunt’ or ‘glory in.’ However, what an ‘experience’ he had there that was part of his Apostolic Credentials. Paul was wise enough, however, to know that καυχασθαι in this could tempt his own flesh to be proud.

On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. Though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. (2 Corinthians 12:5-6 ESV)

Here we have that point that many teachers of the Word and preachers fail, but Paul does not. The word Paul used here translated as “weaknesses,” ασθενειαις, is used in John 5:5 and Galatians 4:13 to mean weakness or sickness. The focus here with Paul is in his “weakness” in the sense of not being whole spiritually. He knows that His spiritual knowledge, maturity, and ability as an Apostle is from God. The work that is done in his ministry that brings God glory is God working in him despite these weaknesses. This is the mark of authenticity that those who were attacking him and his ministry totally lacked. They elevated their ministries and were drawing attention to themselves and what they were saying in their ‘miraculous visions’ while Paul was pointing everyone to God and His grace.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 ESV)

7και τη υπερβολη των αποκαλυψεων διο ινα μη υπεραιρωμαι εδοθη μοι σκολοψ τη σαρκι αγγελος σατανα ινα με κολαφιζη ινα μη υπεραιρωμαι  8υπερ τουτου τρις τον κυριον παρεκαλεσα ινα αποστη απ εμου  9και ειρηκεν μοι αρκει σοι η χαρις μου η γαρ δυναμις εν ασθενεια τελειται ηδιστα ουν μαλλον καυχησομαι εν ταις ασθενειαις ινα επισκηνωση επ εμε η δυναμις του χριστου  10διο ευδοκω εν ασθενειαις εν υβρεσιν εν αναγκαις εν διωγμοις και στενοχωριαις υπερ χριστου οταν γαρ ασθενω τοτε δυνατος ειμι (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 WHNU)

The word translated “conceited,” υπεραιρωμαι, is translated in the KJV as, “I should be exalted above measure.” It means, “to become haughty.” When we become focused on self in our walk and ministries this is always a great danger. Therefore, God allowed a αγγελος σατανα, a ‘messenger of Satan,’ to κολαφιζη, harass him. The word κολαφιζη means, “to knock about” or “rap with a fist.” Of what does this κολαφιζη consist? He calls it a σκολοψ τη σαρκι, a ‘thorn in the flesh,’ was εδοθη μοι, given to him. What does this mean? The words σκολοψ τη σαρκι is literally “a stake for the flesh.” Whether this was a physical disability or weakness or is referring to those demonized people who were attacking him and his ministry at Corinth we do not really know. However, in either case, we must understand that Paul understood that God was allowing Satan to attack him in a way that was distressing and put his weaknesses to the fore making him even more dependent upon God and His grace. Can we relate?

This caused Paul such anguish and distress that he pleaded three times for God to remove the σκολοψ τη σαρκι. Just as our Lord’s prayers at Gethsemane for the cup, if possible, to pass from Him (Mark 14:32-41) were given three times and denied, Paul’s is as well. However, God gave our Lord and Paul the grace to endure their ordeals. Our Lord told Paul, “is enough (αρκει) to you (σοι) the (η) grace (χαρις) of me (μου), the (η) for (γαρ) power (δυναμις) in (εν) weakness (ασθενεια) is complete (τελειται).” It is through our Lord’s χαρις that His disciples find in and through them δυναμις εν ασθενεια τελειται. Our Lord says that this grace, this χαρις, is αρκει for us. The verb αρκει is in present tense, which reveals the constant availability of this χαρις. God will not remove our thorns as long as they serve His purpose, but He will continue to supply us with the χαρις to endure it (1 Corinthians 15:10; Philippians 4:13; Colossians 1:29). Paul then exults, “Most gladly (ηδιστα) then (ουν) more (μαλλον) I will boast (καυχησομαι) in (εν) the (ταις) weaknesses (ασθενειαις) that (ινα) might abide (επισκηνωση) on (επ) me (εμε) the (η) power (δυναμις) of the (του) Christ (χριστου).” Do you see the principle my brethren? Is this something that tells us that God works in our lives in way that is all about us?

What was Paul willing to endure for the glory of God that the power of Christ by His grace might abide on him? Paul said, “Therefore (διο) I think well (ευδοκω) in (εν) weaknesses (ασθενειαις) in (εν) abuses (υβρεσιν) in (εν) hardships (αναγκαις) in (εν) persecutions (διωγμοις) and (και) anguish (στενοχωριαις) on behalf (υπερ) of Christ (χριστου) when (οταν) for (γαρ) I am weak (ασθενω) then (τοτε) power (δυνατος) I am (ειμι).” No matter how painful the things are that God allows in our lives to perfect our faith, keep us humble, and useful in the Kingdom, we can rejoice in the power of Christ that is revealed through us as we remain faithful and obedient. As we mature in Christ this way, we see clearly that it most certainly is not all about us, but is about God and His glory.

Soli Deo Gloria!

12 thoughts on “It’s All About Me

  1. Mysticism = Bondage…and only Sola Scriptura can rescue us from it. Great post, Mike. My sis and I have similar experiences. How wonderful to be delivered from the shifting sands of mystical experiences and set firmly upon the Rock. We walk by faith, not by sight….but what faith it is!

  2. Thanks Mike! Love the point about mysticism being a hermeneutic-
    Henry Blackaby’s teaching of what I call soft mysticism has laid the groundwork for the evangelical community to move into hard mysticism (contemplative prayer). I had a very similar journey as yours. I began to see that the questions I had fell into 1 of 2 categories:
    How does God speak to us? and
    What is true Biblical prayer?
    The answers to these questions also led me to a life changing embrace of sola scriptura. Praise be to God! I stopped using the Bible as a divining tool and realized that God’s Word is exactly what it says it is- God’s Word speaking to me-
    Not only do I not need further “words from God” – but I saw this desire for what it was- a lust for secret knowledge. I am so thankful to be free from that bondage!

  3. Thanks for that insightful comment Cathy. Yes, you see it very clearly my sister. You said, “Not only do I not need further “words from God” – but I saw this desire for what it was- a lust for secret knowledge. I am so thankful to be free from that bondage!” If you listen to the proponents of seeker-sensitivity, purpose driven, emergent, or missional paradigms they do exactly what you said you have learned is not how to use God’s Word. They use it to get that secret knowledge and they proclaim that they have direct revelation from God and everyone must adhere to it. Well, not so because we adhere to Sola Scriptura, we CANNOT go there. I got into a very testy discussion with a family member who is really into the mystical KC prophets stuff. He told me plainly that there was no requirement to follow the Bible exactly and that just because something is not supported in the Bible does not mean that it isn’t from God, et cetera. So…how dark is that darkness?

    Yes, my sister, I too am so thankful to be free from that bondage!

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  4. Dear Mike,
    John Ortberg’s sample session @ counter (8:30) says “Jesus did not say I have come that you might follow my rules.” Well, let’s consult The Bible and see what Jesus did say. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments, And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” John 14:15-17 Wow, so in fact it is not “ME” at all but the Holy Spirit given to me by God the Father. Then Mr. Ortberg goes on to say “No wonder people also said they find themselves not motivated to pursue spiritual growth, beacuse if I think God’s aim is to produce rule-followers spiritual growth will always be in the “OBLIGATION” category rather than in the want to category.” Again let’s see what God said in His word. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God AND OBEY HIS COMMANDMENTS. For this is the love of God, THAT WE KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS. and His commandments ARE NOT BURDENSOME. 1 John 5:1-3 (emphasis mine) It is so sad that Mr. Ortberg never mentions HOW to be set free from the bondage of “ME”. May God have mercy on us.

  5. Charisse,

    What John Ortberg is saying in your quote is a perfect example of Biblical eisegesis.

    Biblical eisegesis is the opposite of Biblical exegesis. When we use the term Sola Scriptura we are saying that our theology must be based on what the Bible says with no outside sources overriding any part of it nor inserting things into it. On the other hand, those whose theology is not grounded in Sola Scriptura use Biblical eisegsis, which is what is done when someone interprets the Bible according to notions that were born outside of the Bible. It’s when we read stuff into Scripture. (For instance, the idea of the United States as a “Christian Nation” is the creation of egos who gloat over being powerful. It has no basis in history or fact, but more important, it has no basis in the Bible. Thus it arises from eisegesis. Yet some leading US politicians and pastors interpret the Bible through this notion.) John Ortberg is guilty of this very thing in his twisting of scripture to propound his warped theology.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  6. Mike,
    Great post, how I thank God that He has shown me that it’s not about me, it’s about what Christ did for me. To look to Christ and His finished work on the cross, to realize that I didn’t have to “work”, but just rest in Him, was the moment that all the bondage of years in modern evangelicalism fell away.
    Another great post brother, many blessings!!!

  7. I remember being given that bible study from Blackaby to go through when I was in Junior High or something. I think I was too apathetic about bible studies at the time to really absorb what was at the heart of it, but when I think about how highly that book and that author were revered in my old church, it makes sense, because that kind of pseudo-mysticism was definitely prevalent in the church culture there…

    It’s amazing to me when I contrast that with many years later, when as an adult I actually just sat down and read through the book of Hebews… Unlike any moment in my life up to that point, the scriptures just spoke. There was no one to stop, and break down a single sentence into a half-hour talking point. No one taking the text and squishing it into their own predetermined theme. The simplicity of the gospel just jumped out. The Old and New Covenants all of the sudden made perfect sense. God really does speak for Himself. It was such a “profound” moment, but it wasn’t some mystical experience at all…

    I have found myself feeling a little suspicous in the last few years whenever someone starts putting such a large emphasis on “spiritual disciplines”, but until now, I don’t think I really knew why. I had never actually thought of that being used as a form of mysticism, but it makes a lot of sense. In the same way that the Spiritual gifts so often get abused as a way to elevate oneself, and put emphasis on one’s own spiritual “maturity”, I see how “contemplative prayer” can be twisted in order to do the same thing. Thanks for another thought-provoking post…

    Daniel

  8. Thanks for sharing that Daniel. You described exactly why hermeneutics CAN be deadly. I see no problem with some of them, but we still must not become so controlled by them that we smother the word coming alive for us as God speaks through it to give us His truth.

    I pray for guidance all the time. I ask for wisdom and discernment and direction. I ask for specific things like help in answering questions by some people or guidance in how to deal with some people attacking the truth here through their straw-man attacks or whatever. I have learned to simply obey God by not violating my conscience. If our conscience is held captive to the Word of God then we sin horribly if we violate it. That would happen if we do not heed it in obedience. I come under conviction to respond or not respond to someone who has commented. That person has said something or insinuated something that my first impulse is to address from anger or indignation. That is always wrong. Therefore, I pray for wisdom on how to answer this or even if I should. Then I wait until I cool off. Then I listen for that convicting voice from my conscience. I will eventually discern when it is time to respond or not. If I am convicted to respond then I will simply open the comment section and go for it, relying on guidance from the Spirit to stay in bounds within Sola Scriptura the whole time. There is more detail to it than that, but that is how I address those specific things like that. This is nowhere close to the mysticism that is being propagated by those who are into Spiritual Formation and Contemplative Prayer, however, I often wonder if some who profess or back that stuff are not actually simply confused with the terminology…

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  9. Hi Mike,
    Thank you for this. I found it very helpful in terms of what God has kept me from engaging in. I have had several opportunities these last 2 years to be involved in IHOP; being mentored by an older woman heavily into an IHOP house of prayer in our town (and through her it is being introduced into our church), and now another woman has started going to IHOP prayer meetings with this same woman and has invited some of us to go with her. Instead of all that, The Lord is having me learn about His Sovereignty and what Christ did for me at the cross.
    All of this striving to get closer to God, pray more or at least pray all night, pray with us in this building, pray in groups every week, pray this certain way, prayer walking, go to my son’s school and walk around it and pray or whatever people say you need to do….well, they said I should do it anyway. It just sounded strange to me. I thought… why can’t I just pray at home, or with my husband, or with my son before he goes to school? I think it is about unbelief. You need to keep repeating your actions over and over. I don’t have anything to offer to God except my sinfulness and I am so grateful He sees me clothed in His Son’s Righteousness and I have been made acceptable in His sight. That truth fully realized in one’s heart will get you very close to God, so close that you might wish to get away from the realization of what you are and what He has done, because it is overwhelming, but you will not be able to because of the great love He has put in your heart for Him. So we are ever grateful for what He has done.
    Bless you and have a great evening.

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