To claim that all of the answers to man's personal predicaments can be found in something as old-fashioned as the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a bold statement. It has been made many times in the past, but even those who made it then often found themselves referring certain types of specialty problems to the experts--that cadre of specialists who are trained in psychiatry, psychology, and other behavior-related disciplines. Even today in the most Bible-focused seminaries and Bible colleges, there is an easy acceptance of these specialists, as if there is a tacit admission that somehow the Gospel is too simple to deal with the really tough questions of life.
Do not misunderstand. This book is not an attack on the specialty disciplines that focus upon our more bizarre deviations from that which yields real joy. The greater our pain, the more prevalent will become those who offer peace and joy. The one begets the other. But, though there is here no attack on the specialty disciplines, it will be very clear before too long that they are regarded as helpful only insofar as they recognize and implement the ancient wisdom of God as revealed in the Scriptures. Thus, they are only step-children in a generation of people who have departed so significantly from that wisdom that we now need experts to tell us how to stop our destructive living. If we knew the Word of God, believed the God who gave it, and practiced His wisdom, the going price of a visit to a psychologist would be somewhere around fifty cents an hour. And that alone would put many who profess to possess the answers to life out of business.
This book is, on the other hand, a declaration--a throwing down of the gauntlet, perhaps--that God has always known what our real needs are,1 has always given the answer before the difficulty arose,2 and has persisted over many centuries to compel the world to deal with those who believe Him sufficiently to continue to proclaim the declaration.3 It is a deep grief to this author that so many hurt so deeply when it is so unnecessary. Jesus did come to give us joy in life,4 and He is perfectly capable of doing so in the midst of this present world's death-throes. But, few believe this and, in their minds at least, for good reason. That reason is that the proclamation has been diverted from its roots and content by those who would rather distort than heal, destroy than save, and ridicule than rest. So, we shall declare what the God of the Bible has said from the beginning. Those who believe Him shall find the jewel of real joy in the wallow of this world's increasing disaster.
But, to do this we must first set forth a rudimentary reality without which all that follows is incapable of fruit. Not because what follows is not true, but because truth without acceptance is helpless to help.
Jesus said, on one occasion at least..."Take heed what you hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you; and unto you that hear shall more be given. For he that hath, to him shall be given; and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath" (Mark 4:24-25, KJV). On the face of it, He was deliberately cloaking His words with mystery. The quote comes from the midst of parables which Jesus said He told because those who are without were to be kept from perceiving and understanding. But, also on the face of it, He is clearly saying that it makes a difference what a person chooses to measure with. He says that what a person chooses to measure with will determine what is measured to him.
This is not a hard principle to grasp. If one wishes to measure the length of a field, he must choose a measuring device which will yield units of length. If one wishes to measure the amount of grain in a hopper, he must choose a measuring device which will yield pecks, bushels, or some other valid unit of grain measurement. If one wishes to measure the amount of gasoline that he desires to purchase, he must choose a measuring device which will tell him how many gallons he has poured into his container. Only by mathematical computation will inches tell the measurer how many gallons he has--for even when a gas station attendant lowers a ruler into his fuel tanks, someone had to set up a conversion formula to enable him to determine how many gallons he has, because the ruler yields inches, not gallons. Without debate, the device that is chosen to yield the form of measurement predetermines the kind of answer that will come. Therefore, according to Jesus' words, the time to be careful is at the beginning--when you choose your measuring device--because afterwards the results are predetermined by that earlier choice.
Now what does this have to do with a rudimentary principle? This, that there is a fundamental decision that must be made that presets the stage so that the outcome is already determined. If we are going to find out what the martyrs were made of, if we are going to discover how to live with conviction that is strong enough to give us joy in the face of increasing disaster, if we are going to uncover the secret of answers to the really difficult questions of life, we must begin carefully and choose a measurer that will give us what we are seeking.
What will that measuring device be? For an answer, let us consider that Jesus also said in His interpretation of the preceding parable: "And these are they that are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit..." (Mark 4:20, KJV). In these words one thing stands out sharply: fruit is borne out of a hearing of the Word of God and a subsequent embracing of its declarations. Whatever else it might mean, the statement clearly says that fruit (which, in this book, is the joy of genuine life) is the consequence of the willingness to hear God and employ His words in the performance of the details of our lives. This is our rudimentary principle. Without a predetermination to give God an audience, we cannot come to the joy of His life. Also, it does no good to give Him an audience and then, upon going away, determine that He doesn't know what He is talking about.
I have a friend whom I once exasperated beyond his tolerance for inquisitiveness. He was an experienced master-builder, and I was only beginning. I wanted to build my own home, but I was not confident of how to do some of the things I needed to do. So, on occasion I would ask him of his opinion about the situations that I faced. But, more times than not, after he gave his opinion I would simply go ahead and do what I thought was best. After one such question/answer session, he exploded! "Why do you ask for my advice if you have no intention of taking it?" I was embarrassed by the tittering that followed this exchange as some of my fellow workers expressed their feelings about my obtuseness. But this illustrates my point: it is of no use to come to God or anyone else for help, if you are not going to take it.
This means that we have a very rudimentary principle that we must decide upon. Will we give God a hearing with the intention of taking His advice? If so, read on--you might find to your delight that He does, in fact, have a solution for your dilemma. But if not, you might just as well put this book down and go on about your rat-killing because there will be no help for you from this quarter.
Some, however, will object to this early call to decide whether we will believe what we are told. That, they will say, is too much like giving up my control over my life before I have even heard what is coming.
Let's consider that objection briefly--since objections simply block the process--from a couple of different directions. First, let me say clearly that I do not claim, or believe of myself, that my words are inspired words of God. A person has every right to withhold commitment to the words of a man until a solid judgment can be made as to whether he is accurately representing the God of Heaven. But I did not, in the material above, ask for a commitment to my words. I did say that I would declare what God has said from the beginning, and I did say that we must not refuse to hear God and receive His words. But, there are two things no man in his right mind will do. First, he will not take the words of a man for the words of God without careful thought. And, second, he will not hesitate to give God a clear commitment to hear Him. This means that, though we must give a man a full hearing before we judge the accuracy of his words, we must also give God an immediate commitment to hear Him. There is a difference between listening for the truth of God through a human instrument, and listening to a human instrument as the spokesman of God. In the above call for a rudimentary commitment to hearing and believing God, I did not mean that there must be a rudimentary commitment to hearing and believing me. If we will listen to each other, but will not listen to God, we will not be helped. Also, if we profess a willingness to listen to God, but will not listen to each other, how will we hear from God Who typically and historically has chosen to speak to men through men?
Second, the objection to an early decision to listen to God and believe Him must be laid aside because the essence of the objection is the fear of losing control over the directions the hearer will take. I only hesitate to listen and act if I am afraid of where I might be taken. But, dear reader, consider where you are now. Why did you pick up this book to read? It was written to help people who are in deep trouble. This means it was written to people whose own control over their lives has brought them to significant grief. It makes no sense to hang onto a control that has led to grief. It makes good sense to turn loose of that kind of control. God's wisdom leads to joy even in the face of grief. Man's wisdom leads to chaos and greater chaos. Do not defeat the purpose of God's wisdom by setting yourself up as a judge over it. If you were able to be a judge over God's wisdom, you would not be where you are right now.
God is, by definition, One whose wisdom is perfect. The Word of God is, by definition, the expression of perfect wisdom. We cannot lose by committing early to a willingness to listen to perfect wisdom. But, by the same token, we cannot win by refusing to listen to perfect wisdom. Remember Jesus' words, "Take heed what you hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you; and unto you that hear shall more be given. For he that hath, to him shall be given; and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath" (Mark 4:24-25, KJV). He meant that the one who was willing to hear and embrace His words would receive more understanding than he had, and the one who is not willing, even what he understands now will be taken away so that the chaos that he fears will come upon him in even greater measure.
This means that there are two parts to the measure of rule that we must adopt if we are to come to joy. The first part is the what that we are committing ourselves to listen to: the Word of God as opposed to the philosophies, psychologies, psychiatries, and random opinions of men. The second part is the how that we are committing ourselves to as a method of listening: ready acceptance of what He says as the truth which we will use to direct our choices in life.5
Life is not a game in which it does not matter who wins and who loses. Life is a critical, linear experience that heaps up a down-line harvest day by day as decisions are made and carried out.6 It is critical that we make the right decisions.
1 It is so basic to Christianity that God is both omniscient and Creator that it is a base position of unbelief to doubt that God knows how He put us together and what our needs are. To think that God knows, but for some reason did not reveal what He knows in this area of our needs, is to throw significant doubt upon His compassion.
2 According to the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:13, believing man has never had to deal with temptation prior to being prepared by God for the test that temptation represents. Thus, before ever a difficulty arises, God has set the stage for us by preparing us beforehand. Denying this is simply the age-old attempt to find a scapegoat for what is, really, irresponsibility.
3 It is true that various geographical areas of the world have been given the historical opportunity to respond to the Gospel in successive stages. It is also true that after several generations of exposure, each of these geographical areas has lapsed into significant post-Christian apostasy. And it is true that each lapse has been followed by the intellectual justification for the lapse for apostates to be able to live with their apostasy. But it is not true that there was ever any just reason for the lapse. We are, as Francis Schaeffer said, in a head-long flight to escape from reason. Any old excuse will do.
4 John recorded that the first of Jesus' miracles was the turning of six waterpots of water into wine. This was 120-180 gallons of wine. One of the most obvious results of the miracle was joy--both for the wedding party and for the wedding guests. Jesus later declared in the same Gospel, that He had come to communicate abundant life. In thinking about that purpose, we ought to give some thought to this: if, in this existence, we have joy, nothing else matters; likewise, if we have no joy, nothing else matters. Life consists in joy.
5 This is not a latent legalism. Biblically, faith is a fundamental alteration of perspective that results in a different approach to the issues at hand. If we say we believe what God has said, but do not act on it, we can be sure that our profession is an empty vanity in the ears of God.
6 The apostle Paul, in Galatians 6, said that we should live in an undeceived manner regarding the impact of our actions. We will reap as we have sown. This he wrote to believers, not unbelievers.