Ironically, my meditation on God’s “new thing” is not actually a “new thing”. It’s been a part of my understanding of God and how He works from my earliest days of walking with Him. Once we understand the nature of God as being sovereign, of limitless power and creativity, and as “The GOD of the “new thing'” as revealed in creation and Scripture (Part 2), that understanding becomes a part of one’s base-line perception and expectation of who God is and how He works. This has had very practical ramifications for my wife and I as we have walked with God for over forty years and how we’ve sought to serve Him in the building up of His Ekklesia.
As an example of this, some 25 years ago now, my wife and I were led of the Lord to gather a scattered remnant of believers in a certain nearby town. We held foundation-laying “ministry meetings” in a rented hall on Sunday nights for a number of years and eventually included Sunday morning home gatherings as a means of seeking to see birthed an organic expression of His Church in that area. People would ask, “Are you starting a church?” and we would answer, “No, the church is already there. We’re just trying to gather it!”
For many, if not most, our “vision” was something of a “new thing”. It didn’t fit the normal model or mold of what “church” is. It wasn’t institutional/organizational/denominational, Sunday morning/sacred building/service and program oriented. There was no prescripted “order of worship” nor pre-determined “worship sets”. Neither were there weekly bulletins, Sunday school, children’s church, offeratories, ushers, worship team, etc… I didn’t like or want to be called “Pastor”, “Rev.” or any other honorific title (since Jesus said these should not be used among His followers – Matthew 23:8-12), neither was I salaried nor drew a stipend. How could this possibly be “real church???”
What did the vision consist of though? Well, we sought to gather the “living stones” of God’s building together on the foundation of Jesus Christ alone to be a manifest habitation of God in the Spirit! We sought to gather the family of God together in the Name of the Lord, the Name above every name, and not in some sectarian, man-made, lesser name. We sought to gather the Bride together around Her one Husband, Christ, as Her central passion, pursuit, and pleasure…period! We sought to see the Body of Christ assemble under the Headship of Christ as a functioning, many-membered, spiritual organism. Our “vision statement” said: “We seek to see an organic expression of the Church established, according to the heavenly pattern, where God can put His Name, establish His throne, and inhabit with His glory.” And He did!
As an essential part of laying foundations concerning the works and ways of God, I taught a message back then (1995) called, surprise, surprise…“When God Does a New Thing.” Yes, this has been in my “slow cooker” for quite awhile!
Recently I went rummaging through the attic and came across a box with all of the recorded messages from those years on cassette tapes. I’ve been listening through some of them again, this time with a twenty-five-year-distanced perspective. Although I’ve seen some areas where my understandings of things have changed slightly, for the most part, I feel like most of those messages could have been preached yesterday. I attribute that mostly to the fact that I was no less centered in Christ back then than I am now. I was ruined for God’s eternal purpose in Him then, and since that Purpose never changes, neither has my vision nor burden.
So, as something of a “throw-back Thursday” dynamic to this post, I’m including that message in an audio player here (and at the bottom of the post) for your consideration. It ties in perfectly as a continuation to the previous post in this series concerning, “Misapprehension” and goes into greater detail and example as to exactly how we tend to misperceive, misinterpret, and mis-react to God’s “new thing.” In fact, we are given a “template”, as it were, from God Himself on this matter in the oldest book ever written in the Scriptures, the Book of Job.
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“When God Does a New Thing” – by David Bolton 5/14/1995
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For those who prefer to read a synopsis of this “template”, or as a supplement to the spoken message, I will share briefly concerning the basis of this teaching and of the further examples highlighted in it where those principles and perspectives can be seen playing out throughout Scripture.
A Psychological Template for Missing God
The book of Job gives us a very insightful example of men misapprehending God’s “new thing”. In fact, on close inspection, it presents a rather comprehensive pattern for how human beings in general are most likely to misperceive, misinterpret, and mis-react to God’s unconventional workings. Not only so, it also indicates the God-ordained path to properly apprehending God’s mind in relation to His unprecedented works and ways.
In this ancient narrative, we see God doing a “new thing” in the earth. Here we have a man of whom God Himself says: “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:8) The existing theology, life experience, and common understanding among men at the time was that the righteous are blessed with prosperity, health, and a godly household in this life while the wicked are cursed and suffer want in these areas. When suddenly in a day, without warning or explanation, all of those good things are taken from Job, he is slammed into an utterly unprecedented “new thing”!
Three of his friends gather around him and sit with him in silence for seven days and seven nights because of the severity of Job’s sufferings. Then Job begins to pour out his heart to them and they begin to counsel Job, each from their own perspective. As well-intentioned as they are, all three of them miss the mark, however. They all misapprehend the mysterious “new thing” that is transpiring in Job’s life!
If we look closely at each of these men’s “counseling sessions” with Job, we see that they were each coming from a slightly different perspective. As such, they personify a specific psychological framework through which human beings generally perceive, comprehend and project their thoughts and judgements concerning a situation. These frameworks, if separated from and unfiltered by the Lord’s wisdom, can each become a psychological hindrance that will keep one from apprehending rightly what the Lord is doing. Without going into all the details, we see the following three psychological paradigms represented by their individual perspectives:¹
- Eliphaz = the voice of personal experience (natural and spiritual.)
- Bildad = the voice of tradition (practical and theological/philosophical.)
- Zophar = the voice of dogmatism (rash assessment, assumption and assertion.)
If we look at these more closely, we see that the first two depend entirely on what has been learned and received from “the former things”/“the past.” The first, the voice of personal experience, is what one learns from the past through first-hand experiential knowledge and inward, personal reasoning. The second, the voice of tradition, is what one learns from the past primarily through what is passed down from others, i.e. second-hand and third-hand knowledge and practices.
The third, the voice of dogmatism, does not make a conscious appeal to the past, though it is certainly sub-consciously formed and affected by it. It is what one deduces and asserts without much forethought, analysis, and/or reasoning. Very often such rash assessments, assumptions and assertions are made on the basis of pragmatism, i.e. if it works it is true and/or of value. Therefore, this “voice” can often be more forward looking as to outcomes rather than backwards looking as to sources of wisdom and knowledge, as the other two.
Both backwards-looking perspectives, which rely on first-, second- and/or third-hand knowledge, and forwards-looking ones, which rely on dogmatic assessment, assumption, and assertion, can cause one to misapprehend God’s “new thing.” All three can become psychological strongholds that hold our thoughts captive, preventing us from being able to perceive, receive, and respond to the thoughts and ways of God which are higher than our own (Isaiah 55:8-9). Paul the apostle said,
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5
If we are ever to be liberated to rightly apprehend God’s “new thing”, we have to deal radically with the emotional arguments and psychological pretensions that come from adherence to “the former things” and from “dwell(ing) on the past”.
As a first concern, we need to bring our past, first-hand experiences in relation to God, His Church and His work to the cross and lay them down. As Paul said, “Forgetting those things which are behind…” (Philippians 3:13) God will resurrect that which is truly of Him and needful for His present and future work, but this is the only way for us to not be blinded and bound by our past experiences as we seek to be led by and walk in-step with God’s Spirit in His present working. As Solomon said, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes;” (Proverbs 3:5-7a, emphasis added.)
Secondly, we must consider all of those second- and third-hand religious practices, protocols, and perspectives that have been handed down to us and take those to the foot of the cross as well. Jesus said to the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” “…Thus you nullify the word of God by your traditions that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” Mark 7:9,13 That propensity lies in the heart of every man and “tradition” has a terribly blinding and binding power that is able to hold us captive from true obedience to the Word and ways of God. (For a fairly exhaustive treatment of this, please see here.)
There are godly traditions that we are exhorted to hold onto and put into practice (see 1 Cor. 11:2; 2 Thess. 2:15, & 3:6 for instance), but Christendom at large has incorporated such a plethora of man-made traditions and practices that it is hard to sort out the “good” from “the bad and the ugly”. Like the Pharisees, we “do many things like that!” Sometimes we need a total purge of all handed down, preconceived ideas, assumptions, and practices and then let the Lord sort out, rescue, and resurrect those things that He esteems, pressntly endorses, and will empower going forward. If we fail to allow the cross deal with these matters deeply, we run a great risk of making false assessments, assumptions and assertions based on our adherence to past traditional perspectives and practices.
By dealing with our past in this way, we will be in a much better posture and place for being in-tune with God’s Spirit and walking forward with Him in His present and future workings.
We, likewise, have to deal with our present and forward-looking perspectives that, similarly, have the power to deceive and make us vulnerable to missing God. At the root of these, I believe, lie two main roots, pride and pragmatism.
Pride causes us to think too highly of ourselves in regard to our own perceptions, understandings, and conclusions. We can make snap decisions and judgements without sufficient knowledge, analysis and/or insight simply because we trust in our own “wisdom”. Proverbs says, “Do you see a person wise in their own eyes, there is more hope for a fool than for them.” (Proverbs 26:12) Pride causes us to miss the mark every time!
Pragmatism filters everything through the supreme arbiter of “outcomes”. It begins at the end of the process of truth and works backwards in a strictly utilitarian manner to arrive at what is ultimately to be accepted as “true”, “virtuous”, and/or of “value”. God, however, begins with the Source of Truth, Virtue, and Value, Himself, and then works forwards from there to outcomes. Those who make dogmatic assessments, assumptions, and assertions based primarily on perceived outcomes, even “spiritual” ones, are bound to misapprehend God and His present/future workings. (For more on this, please see the page, Pragmatism and the Truth.)
Here again, the only safeguard is to bring our prideful thoughts and pragmatic reasonings to the foot of the cross in order to break the power of them over our hearts and minds. Only then can we be positioned rightly to properly apprehend the high thoughts, ways, and works of God.
Knowing the Mind of the Spirit
The Book of Job does not simply leave us with a psychological template of how man is typically vulnerable to missing God, it also gives us the way that the mind and ways of God may be apprehended properly. This is personified in the emergence of a fourth counselor/friend in the story of Job, Elihu. (See Job 32-37)
4. Elihu = the voice of revelation (prophetic utterance.)
Elihu didn’t rely on the wisdom gathered with age from past experiences and handed-down traditions, neither did he speak rashly out of his own self-assured judgements and pragmatic reasonings. Instead, he waited on the Lord in humility and only spoke what the Spirit of God revealed within his spirit.
He said to the other three counselors,
“I am young in years, and you are very old; Therefore I was afraid, And dared not declare my opinion to you. I said, ‘Age should speak, And multitude of years should teach wisdom. ‘But there is a spirit in man, And the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding. Great men are not always wise, Nor do the aged always understand justice. “Therefore I say, ‘Listen to me, I also will declare my opinion. ‘Indeed I waited for your words, I listened to your reasonings, while you searched out what to say. I paid close attention to you; And surely not one of you convinced Job, Or answered his words–” (Job 32:6-12, emphasis added.)
Further on he added,
I also will answer my part, I too will declare my opinion. For I am full of words; The spirit within me compels me. Indeed my belly is like wine that has no vent; It is ready to burst like new wineskins. I will speak, that I may find relief; I must open my lips and answer. (Job 32:17-20, emphasis added.)
Finally, near the end of his dissertation, he declared:
“Bear with me a little, and I will show you that there are yet words to speak on God’s behalf. I will fetch my knowledge from afar; I will ascribe righteousness to my Maker. For truly my words are not false; One who is perfect in knowledge is with you” (Job 36:1-4, emphasis added.)
In this, Elihu shows that he was not speaking his own words but the very words of God on His behalf. This is the essence of prophetic ministry. The proof of this is further found in that once Elihu stops speaking to Job and the Lord Himself begins to take up the discourse directly with him, God takes over right where Elihu left off and keeps on speaking along the very same lines concerning the greatness of His wisdom and power as revealed in the created order.
What we can learn from Elihu, therefore, concerning how we may rightly discern and declare the mind of the Lord, especially when He is doing a “new thing”, can be summarized as follows:
- Do not rely on your past and the wisdom that comes from age alone.
- Remain humble in heart and mind, even allowing others to have their say first.
- Listen carefully and be discerningly observant of what is transpiring in God’s providence around you.
- Wait on the Lord and seek the wisdom that comes from His Spirit alone.
- Allow the Holy Spirit to give you the very words to express the wisdom and burden of God into the situation, even as the apostle Paul said, “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.” (1 Corinthians 2:13NIV)
- Release God’s wisdom into the present situation with humility, respect, boldness, and clarity.
- Trust God to confirm His word by His Spirit, personally and directly, to the hearts of others once you are done speaking.
In this day and hour, it is essential that we have the mind of the Lord to understand our present situation and what God is currently doing and will be doing going forward. May we learn from these four counselors the difference between man’s ways and God’s way of discerning, interpreting, and responding to the present workings of God. May we have “an ear to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (see Rev. 2-3) and then be a mouth-piece for Him to His people that GOD may have HIS way among us!
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will”
As a final, “throw-back Thursday”, element to this post, I’m including below the message I taught some 25 years ago to a small gathering of believers that elaborates on these truths and gives further examples throughout Scripture of where these dynamics can be seen at work. Please enjoy the original: “When God Does a New Thing!”
To be continued…
¹Ref. Baxter, J. Sidlow, Explore the Book, Grand Rapids MI, Zondervan Publishing House, 1960, Vol. 3, pgs. 45-52