When I was a boy it was great fun to drive with my family to Crater Lake, in southern Oregon. In those days it was an all-day trip for my dad’s Model A Ford, so we did not go often. Usually on a holiday like the Fourth of July a couple of my uncles would join us with their families [or we would join them], and caravan our Model A’s up the mountain to one of the most beautiful spots in the world. For us kids it was almost a religious ritual.
Centuries ago, the volcano blew its top and a lake of pristine blue beauty formed in the crater. I can still remember the breathlessness that came with the first view of the lake as we rounded the mountaintop.
It was fun to feed the chipmunks. There were hundreds of them. We came with peanuts, bread, and cookies and they would come scampering across the rock—dozens of them. It was great fun.
I was at Crater Lake a few years ago. I was now a grandfather and my uncles were gone—only my mother and a couple of sisters-in-law were left in her family.
There were still chipmunks at Crater Lake. There were also signs everywhere—Do Not Feed the Chipmunks. It seems that when chipmunks were given food that was not natural to them, they developed diseases and the population was placed in jeopardy. They would be much healthier if they gathered their own natural food.
There is a lesson in all this. Random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty can be dangerous. We loved the chipmunks and it was beautiful, we thought, to see them scamper across the rocks and run off with bits of peanuts and cookies stored in their cheeks. We were killing them in our ignorance. Our senseless acts of kindness were deadly to them.
Man was not created to act senselessly and randomly, in spite of the bumper sticker. Man is to use his head, to gather scientific knowledge, and act in wisdom and judgment. Romantic foolishness is the cause of a great deal of evil in the world and not just to chipmunks. The stakes are much higher when humans are victimized by random acts of kindness and senseless beauty, financed by tax dollars and administered by romantic fools.
Magic? Or Faith?
But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. Matt. 6:7,8
How illuminating is this word from Jesus our Lord! The power of our prayers does not lie in the faith or the energy with which they are uttered, but in the power and faithfulness of our Heavenly Father.
True prayer is to the true God and not to idols. Idols are figments of men’s imaginations and can do nothing, but can only do what men do in their names. Idols are empowered by men’s hands and men’s ideas because they do not have anything of their own. Even the sacrifices that men make to false gods are things that come from God and are created by God. (Hosea 2:8 “For [Israel] did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal.”) All things come from the true God, and even the intelligence and strength which men expend on their idols are gifts of God and are misappropriated to the worship of idols.
The true God is self-existent and immutable. He has life in Himself and never changes. [For more information on these great truths about God, see the web page www.ureach.com/figs, click on the “file cabinet” and look for the file folder “Attributes.”]
Jesus is telling us as Christians not to pray like the heathen who do not know the true God. The heathen thought that their prayers could change God. They expended a great deal of energy in trying to find the magic formula or the magic word that would make the gods do what they wanted them to do.
St. Augustine said that heathen men would utter terrible threats against the gods in order to compel them to answer their prayers. This is the reason for incantations, noises, drawings, and other things that men imagine will compel the powers of the universe [the gods] to obey their bidding.
Such ideas are not to be named among Christians for we have another spirit that moves our prayers. We do not expect to change the mind of God. That would be blasphemy, as if we could add anything to God’s wisdom or power. Instead, we pray because we delight in the fellowship that we have with God through Jesus Christ. We delight in the Kingdom of God and the righteousness of God and are content with resting in the provisions that God has made for us. We pray because we love God and love His ways and words, and because we have been moved by His word and Spirit to pray. True prayer changes us a great deal.
True prayer arises from faith and trust. God is not like an unjust judge [Luke 18] who must be compelled to hear the needy, but He delights in the prayers of His people and rejoices in giving good things to them. His most precious gift is the gift of the Holy Spirit given to His children that they might believe and trust in His goodness and His grace.
God’s children will never lack any thing that they need, for God is rich in resources and in grace. But He will not give His glory to another, and very often we suffer because we pray to a God that does not exist. There is no God who is changed by our prayers. If we imagine such a god, we are praying to an idol, a figment of our imagination. The true God is not a cosmic vending machine who will ungorge goodies if we find the right magic words or supply enough energy to make Him move.
The true and living God is gracious and merciful. His children have the precious promise that the Holy Spirit prays in them the sort of prayers that God receives, mixed though they are with much that is sinful. This is a good thing and as we grow in grace and knowledge we learn to pray more in conformity with His will, because we learn more about who He really is. How wonderful the true God is!!!
Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live;-- Isaiah 55:3
We must stretch our ears out to hear what God has to say. Because He speaks with authority it is very important for us to give Him our attention. Modern man is careless in this, for he despises the gifts that God holds out to him.
How do we incline or “stretch” out our ear toward God? This is a figurative expression, of course, but it means that we must be active and energetic in receiving God’s word. It certainly means to read and meditate upon Scripture as David says, “I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways. I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.” –Psalm 119:15,16.
It also means to take advantage of the ways that God has given to teach us His word. It means to take advantage of the church and the faithful minister that God has given to us, so that we will be “no be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive…” --Eph. 4. Faithful ministers are sent by God with a message to men. Because men treat God lightly, they treat His messengers lightly.
It means to partake of the sacraments, which God has given as a “visible preaching of the Gospel.” If we “incline our ear,” the sacraments are very useful in building us up in the faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ. This will mean that we must unite in membership with a local church that is structured according to the Scriptures so that we are under its discipline and care.
It also means to rejoice in fellowship with other Christians, whose counsel and advice will save us from error and foolishness.
None of these things—the sacraments, ministers, fellowship--or any other thing is profitable if we do not hear the word of God. Those who “stretch” their ears toward God will turn away from fake ministers, ceremonies that are according to the imaginations of men, and fellowships that turn men away from what God has said.
The Bible is a long and sometimes difficult book, but it is not beyond the capacity of those who are earnest and diligent. We cannot reduce its message to bumper sticker catch phrases or slogans. Those who hunger and thirst, however, shall be filled. God rewards the hunger He stirs in us by giving us the Holy Spirit when we call upon Him.
For thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Let not your prophets and your diviners, that be in the midst of you, deceive you, neither hearken to your dreams which ye cause to be dreamed. -- Jeremiah 29:8
The humanist not only despises the Scriptures, which exalt God instead of man, but he also hates nature, for in it the face of God is revealed. This includes his own nature and he is constantly imagining himself to be something other than he is.
This is the reason that in humanist societies alcohol and drug abuse abound. Man cannot do anything about nature, so he tries to change his own consciousness. This is the reason why drunkenness is so often linked with idolatry, because it is a form of idolatry. It comes from a desire to change the face of reality.
Men are drunken on far more things than alcohol and drugs. One of the most intoxicating things of all is pride and arrogance. Many a person has come to ruin because his pride caused him to act as though he crazed by strong drink.
Pilate and Herod, along with the Romans and the men of Israel raged in their madness against the Lord Jesus, according to Acts 4:27. How else could you explain their rage against Jesus Christ except for the blindness of their own pride and rebellion against God? It was madness to crucify the Lord of Glory, but that is what happened.
This madness is a judgment of God against unbelief and rebellion against God.
It shall even be as when an hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite: so shall the multitude of all the nations be, that fight against mount Zion. Stay yourselves, and wonder; cry ye out, and cry: they are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink. For the LORD hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered. Isaiah 29:8-10
The humanist doesn’t think so, however. He continues to dream his dreams. In our modern day his dreams are of new moralities that involve saving whales and suckers instead of keeping his word and his marriage vows, honoring God’s name, and faithfully attending public worship. Tolerance of all kinds of evil—sodomy, infant killing, adultery, blasphemy, fornication and other horrors that defile the very lips that utter them—is part of his dream. He imagines that he is a good person because he has good intentions and from time to time is overwhelmed with emotional spasms of his own righteousness, goodness, and broadmindedness. Like a drunken man he has lost the ability to make distinctions, but he is firmly convinced that the right way is whatever he wants to do at the moment. The only person he hates is the man who tries to interfere with his mad dream and desires.
It is a spirit of madness, irrational and chaotic, and full of deadly poison. Every lie is tolerated as long as it furthers the end of the new morality. It is deadly because of the self-righteousness that goes with it. It leaves behind a desert of waste and ruin. It is not new in the history of the world.
The apostle gives us a better way:
Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. --Ephesians 5:14-21
Instead of a life of drunkenness and intoxication and madness, we are called to sobriety and submission to God’s order, and this submission in the Holy Spirit brings a true joy in the heart and order into the life. In submitting one to another, we accept the order that God has given to our lives, the order that is explained by the apostle in the rest of the book of Ephesians, in husbands loving their wives, their wives being in submission, fathers nurturing their children in the Lord, and children obeying their parents, employers treating their workers kindly and fairly, and workers giving honest and faithful labor.
It is a mad dream to think that we can be sane and sober in any other order.
“Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” Satan to Eve in Genesis 3
It is the glory of man that he wants to be like God. He was created for this purpose, to be the image of God. Even after the fall of Adam, something of the image of God remains, according to Genesis 6:6, 1Cor. 11:6; James 3:9. Man ought to strive to be like God for the elect have been predestinated to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ [Rom. 8:29], who is the image of the invisible God [Col. 1:15].
It is also the shame of man that he wants to be like God, for he does not seek God in Jesus Christ. Because of this he imagines that he can be like God in his own right. He therefore seeks the gifts of God without seeking the God of the gifts. It was so in the temptation of Adam and is so until this day.
Adam saw that the Tree in the midst of the Garden of Eden was good for food. But this was not the cause of the temptation. Adam was not hungry. God had filled the Garden with an abundance of wonderful things. It was not sinful for Adam to desire to eat good things, but it was sinful for him to eat what God had forbidden him to eat.
Neither was it sinful for Adam to enjoy beautiful things. The fruit of the forbidden tree was pleasing to the eye, but God had filled the earth with beautiful things and had given Adam a heart and eye to appreciate them. It was not sinful for Adam to desire beauty, but it was sinful for him to desire the fruit that had been forbidden.
Neither was it sinful for Adam to want to be like God. He had been created for this. We might say that creation is a “visibilization” of the invisible, for the invisible things of God are displayed in creation, according to Paul in Romans 1, so that they are clearly seen by men who are without excuse.
Men bear in their own nature the desire to be like God. This is good, and the gift of God. But man desires to be like God in his own right. He is not content to be an image, but strives to be his own God, to decide matters in his own right and to evaluate good and evil on his own, not as the image of God. This is his shame, for instead of worshipping the true, living, immutable, invisible, and infinite God, he imagines a God in his own image to his own confusion.
Satan’s subtlety was to attack man at the point of man’s greatest glory—that he is the image of God. Because Adam failed in the temptation, sin and death came upon all men. What man lost in Adam was regained for the elect in Jesus Christ, the Last Adam.