by Mike Ratliff
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:1-2)
When we are in the fires of tribulation, time seems to stop. The agony seems endless. We want the pain to end. We want God to step in and either end it all and take us home or stop the pain and restore us to a condition that we prefer. This is how we are if we are self-absorbed. When we are self-focused or self-absorbed we see all things temporally with us in the center. This is the way we are when we are Soul-led. Our minds, wills and emotions are in control. Our Souls are predominate over our Spirits. God seems a million miles away. Joy is gone.
On the other hand, when we are Spirit-led things are very different. Our Spirits are predominate over our Souls. Our Souls are denied. Self is denied. Our minds, wills and emotions are subject to our Spirits. Only a genuine believer can be Spirit-led because it is only possible with the Holy Spirit in control. God designed our Souls to express and reflect Him. When we are Spirit-led, we are walking according the Spirit as God designed us. Our Souls are performing the proper function. Our Spirits communicate with God. Our Souls cannot do so.
If we are Soul-led then we are effectually cut-off from any sense of God’s presence. We have trouble praying, worshipping, or anything that requires listening to and obeying God. On the other hand, when we are Spirit-led, we walk by praying continually. We worship constantly. We listen to and obey God. The leading part of our Spirits is our Conscience. It contains the highest value system it can grasp. There are no higher values than God’s. A believer’s Conscience is truly blessed with God’s value system. However, a Soul-led believer struggles mightily with obedience and devotion. Why? He or she has a callous layer separating their Souls from God’s values in their Conscience. It is like looking through frosted glass. This callous layer is built up over time with each act of disobedience to God’s will. This is called hard-heartedness.
What is the solution? God must cut through the layer of callous or greasy fat that has built up in our hearts. This heart circumcision is a wonderful blessing. If you have read my testimony then you know that God did this for me in August 2004. It was amazing. God’s values were apparent to me in such vivid clarity that I fell in a heap weeping and weeping for hours. I cared nothing for anything except God’s glory. I became discerning to a level that was frightening. He taught me how to walk in the Spirit. He taught me how to pray. He taught me how to worship. He opened His Word to me like never before. This is the reality of being Spirit-led. I pray that I can learn to stay Spirit-led for longer and longer periods. Right now I am Spirit-led part of the time and Soul-led the rest of the time.
Why did I go into all of that? We have reached the end of Job Chapter 13 and the beginning of Chapter 14 that is Job’s first Despondent Prayer. So far we have seen Job’s horrible suffering and how it has lead to his despair. He is close to breaking, but God is sustaining His servant. He can still speak the truth to his friends, but he is still very confused about why God allowed this to happen to him. He is Soul-led.
Only grant me two things, then I will not hide myself from your face: withdraw your hand far from me, and let not dread of you terrify me. Then call, and I will answer; or let me speak, and you reply to me. How many are my iniquities and my sins? Make me know my transgression and my sin. Why do you hide your face and count me as your enemy? Will you frighten a driven leaf and pursue dry chaff? For you write bitter things against me and make me inherit the iniquities of my youth. You put my feet in the stocks and watch all my paths; you set a limit for the soles of my feet. Man wastes away like a rotten thing, like a garment that is moth-eaten. (Job 13:20-28)
Job cries out to God again. It is reminiscent of David’s lament from Psalms 22 and Jesus’ cry to The Father from the cross. Notice that Job does not slander God. He simply tells God what he desires. Would God be upset with us if we talked with Him this way? No! This is a very healthy way to pray to God. Why? It opens up the channels of communication between God and us. When we raise these issues God works in our hearts to lead us to the truth. Many may say that this prayer is offensive because it calls God’s character into question. God can take care of Himself. Pardon me, but it’s true. Yes, we should be very upset with blasphemy and false views of God, but this prayer is not one of those. However, Job does hint here that God may be punishing him for the sins of his youth. This confuses him because he knows that when God forgives sin it is forgiven. Don’t we do this ourselves sometimes? Job is still thrashing around trying to understand why God is doing this to him. Don’t forget, God is the only one who can cut away spiritual blindness. Our hard-heartedness is our own doing, but we are powerless to cut it away. Only as we humble ourselves before God in repentance does He grant our repentance and remove our hard-heartedness. He may choose to remove it a little at a time or all at once. It’s His will that counts here, not ours.
“Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not. And do you open your eyes on such a one and bring me into judgment with you? Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one. Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass, look away from him and leave him alone, that he may enjoy, like a hired hand, his day. For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. Though its root grow old in the earth, and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put out branches like a young plant. But a man dies and is laid low; man breathes his last, and where is he? As waters fail from a lake and a river wastes away and dries up, so a man lies down and rises not again; till the heavens are no more he will not awake or be roused out of his sleep. Oh that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath be past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me! If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my service I would wait, till my renewal should come. You would call, and I would answer you; you would long for the work of your hands. For then you would number my steps; you would not keep watch over my sin; my transgression would be sealed up in a bag, and you would cover over my iniquity. But the mountain falls and crumbles away, and the rock is removed from its place; the waters wear away the stones; the torrents wash away the soil of the earth; so you destroy the hope of man. You prevail forever against him, and he passes; you change his countenance, and send him away. His sons come to honor, and he does not know it; they are brought low, and he perceives it not. He feels only the pain of his own body, and he mourns only for himself.” (Job 14:1-22)
This is a very famous passage. It can be very discouraging for us to read this out of context though. Of course, we know that Job is exasperated. He is in despair. He is Soul-led and, therefore, he has no sense of God’s presence. His prayers seem to be blunt and go nowhere. He speaks the truth about God, but he is desperate for the close personal walk he had with God before this happened. The problem with being Soul-led and in despair is the resultant spiritual blindness that keeps us from doing the only thing we can do when we fall into the fire. What is it? We must humble ourselves before the throne of grace. We must draw near to God in our humility. I firmly believe that if Job had done this earlier his suffering may have been shortened. His friends would certainly have had less ammunition to use against him. God may have kept Job in his suffering state for a while, but in that humility, perhaps God would have comforted Job some. Who knows?
Job has not yet learned the purpose of his suffering. Sometimes suffering comes our way like this. It seems incomprehensible that these horrible things are happening to us. After all, aren’t we servants of the Most High. Don’t I pray every day? Don’t I read my Bible? Don’t I…? You get the idea. If this is how we react to suffering then we are self-absorbed and that means we are Soul-led. We lack humility. The suffering could very well be God-designed to humble us so God can cut away more and more of our hard-heartedness. Couldn’t we save ourselves a lot of pain if we would just become the humble servants God wants us to be? Sure, but as I stated earlier, we are not capable of removing our spiritual blindness. Why? Well, if we are hard-hearted we don’t realize we are. God must put that deep desire in us to be what He wants us to be. For us to discern His will here is easier for some than others. Some of us are hard cases who have to learn everything the hard way. Some of us are naturally more tenderhearted than others. I must be the hardest of the hard cases. I have to go through so much discouragement before I finally crack and humble myself. That process seems to have leveled off now, but for a while there I was beginning to wonder if I would ever get out of the flames.
If you deeply desire to be Spirit-led or to draw close to your Lord in humility as a way of life then praise the Lord. Why? God put that desire in you. Now what? We have already discussed this in earlier posts. We must draw near unto God. How do we do this? Prayer, Bible reading, devotion, worship and obedience all within the context of humility is the only way. There are no shortcuts. Do all for the glory of God. Take no credit for anything. Give all the credit to others or to God and believe it. Ask God to draw you closer. Read and meditate on passages such as Matthew 11: 28-30 or Romans 12:1-2 or James 4:7-10. Memorize them and ask God to reveal their depth to your heart. Cultivate humility and uproot pride. We can’t do this without God’s help, but we can ask Him to help us can’t we? When tribulation comes then learn to rejoice in it. I know that’s hard and I don’t do as well with this as I should, but God is teaching me how to do this. Humility is the secret. Prayer is vital. Worship is the source of joy. The Word of God is our source of our knowledge of God. Wisdom comes via the Word and experience as does discernment.
One last thing, self-absorption is fatal to being Spirit-led. If we are that self-focused then we will have a very rough time staying Spirit-led for any length of time. We may do well, but as soon as someone comments on a good work or word from us then we can fall into self-focus very quickly and that means we are not humble. Again, humility is the key. Praise the Lord that He is revealing these truths to His remnant just at the right time. Soli Deo Gloria!
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