Hungering for Holiness

How many of us or how often have we felt genuine hunger? If we understand hunger what does it mean to ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness?’ We should want to know, as there is a blessing attached to it.

6  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled. Matthew 5:6 (NKJV)

The pronounced blessing is that our hunger and thirst shall be satisfied. A key factor here is the tense. In a literal translation the tense reads as hungering and thirsting. The idea being that we do not eat or drink once and remain satiated. Just as we naturally need to eat and drink each day to maintain our physical body, so too we need to spiritually eat and drink each day. Jesus says our hungering and thirsting is to be for righteousness. Given that, understanding righteousness will help us to direct our hunger and thirst. So what are we being directed to in Matthew?

δικαιοσύνη dikaiosunē noun, Righteousness, equity, justice.

The New Testament concept of justice is remote from the Greek doctrine of virtue and also from the Jewish concept of earning righteousness through keeping the Law. The term dikaiosunē is applied both to God and to people in the New Testament. In reference to people it is concerned with the imputed righteousness “in Christ” and the practical righteousness of everyday living and conduct.

Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary, The

The Greek word for righteousness is the one above, and as it states, we have an imputed righteousness by virtue of our relationship with Jesus that produces a practical righteousness in our conduct. What the definition does not address is that we also have an imparted righteousness, Jesus nature in our reborn spirit, which needs to be made manifest in our soul. This is what produces a practical righteousness, holiness. How do we walk in it?

One way is to satisfy our hunger and thirst each morning by sitting with Jesus with the fixed intention of encountering Him and knowing His heart. This expectation of encountering Him is a demonstration of faith. We can have communion with Him each morning, with or without the elements. The external elements merely symbolize an internal reality.

The Quakers, or Society of Friends, have been part of the broader Christian landscape since the mid-17th century and their practice is to have communion not via external elements but via sitting with Jesus and experiencing His presence. This is available to all of us as believers. We simply need to make the choice and sit with Him, He is available.

I am convinced through practice that getting up and sitting with Jesus is the best way to start each day. To make it more effective it is best if it spills over into the rest of the day. Develop the habit of pausing and looking to Jesus at various points throughout the day and He will begin to spill over into all of your day. This is the practical application of hungering and thirsting. Not the expectation of some magical download that will change our life; rather the cultivation of a habit that shapes our eternal destiny!

Delving Deeper

Are you familiar with the term “The Deeper Christian Life?” Perhaps some church history will help? The Pentecostal movement was always part of church history to a small extent, however when the great Pentecostal movement began in the early part of the 20th century it flowed around the world from a converted stable at 312 Azusa Street in Los Angeles. Please note when I refer to the Pentecostal movement I am referring to a movement marked by tongues and other spiritual gifts, not a denomination. There are numerous denominations and there have been numerous movements as part of the greater Pentecostal movement.

I remember hearing John Wimber describe what he learned from his study of church growth in the 20th century. He said plotted on a graph the Pentecostal movement had a slow and steady rise for most of the first half of the 20th century and then with the advent of the healing evangelists from 1948 on, tied to Israel becoming a nation again, the graph line changed so it looked like a rocket launching, there was explosive growth around the world and it has been the fastest growing evangelical movement ever since. All good news right?

Not necessarily. Over 100 years ago the prophecy below was released at the Azusa Street Mission.

“In the last days three things will happen in the great Pentecostal Movement. There will be an overemphasis on power rather than on righteousness. There will be an overemphasis on praise to a God they no longer pray to. There will be an overemphasis on the gifts of the Spirit, rather than on the Lordship of Christ.” (source, David Wilkerson writing)

So, while this movement has gone around the world and resulted in an incredible number of salvations and the advancement of the church there is another element. In the broader Pentecostal movement the sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit has been the experience of moving in spiritual gifts with tongues being the primary focus for many. This was a marked departure from the focus of those in the 19th century church who pursued the deeper life. There were many at that time who believed in a filling or baptism in the Spirit subsequent to conversion. However, for them the evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit was not the operation of spiritual gifts in the life of the believer, most of them had no grid for this, their focus was on a transformed holy life! This remained the focus in the early Pentecostal movement. Gifts were a sign but the fruit of the Spirit was also to be in evidence. However this was lost over time.

I do believe there will be a return to this focus in the church without losing the focus on moving in spiritual gifts. I think they are critically important. At the same time the New Testament church held up as the standard for carnality, the Corinthian church, seemed to have moved in the greatest gifts yet the least holiness. Perhaps we in the western church have come full circle? I think in many ways we have lost our focus on spiritual purity. What do we think of when we read the verse below?

21  And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21 (NKJV) 

Are we thankful that we are free from having to pay the penalty for our own sin? That is good and right. Yet I believe much more is expressed in this verse. The nation of Israel was looking for their Messiah, a deliverer, and here He was promised. Yet Jesus came not just to deliver us from the penalty of sin, He also came to deliver us from the power of sin! The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) is clear on this point and Jesus told us to build our lives on what He taught. He reaffirmed this in Matthew 28:18-20 in what we call the Great Commission. A call to Jesus is a call to discipleship that results in practical holiness. This it is taught throughout the New Testament and below are just a few of many verses.

4  just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, Ephesians 1:4 (NKJV) 16  because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:16 (NKJV)

11  Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12  looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? 13  Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 2 Peter 3:11-13 (NKJV)

There is no question that the scriptures call us to holiness. What we need to address is how we get there and what holiness looks like. I think in the 20th century much of the church abandoned the pursuit of holiness because they wrongly identified it with legalism and were repelled by it. Yet the holiest person who ever walked the earth, Jesus, was attractive to people, not through physical beauty but through a winsome holiness. True holiness draws the hungry because it reveals Jesus. The way to holiness is laid out below.

22  Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 23  having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, 1 Peter 1:22-23 (NKJV)

12  Therefore, brethren, we are debtors – not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13  For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14  For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. Romans 8:12-14 (NKJV)

The Holy Spirit is just that, holy. If we are truly intimate with Him, and obedient to Him, (intimacy and obedience cannot be separated) we too will be Holy. This was the pursuit of the deeper life movement in the 19th century, the revealing of Jesus to and through His people. I think it needs to be our focus again. Not instead of spiritual gifts, but alongside spiritual gifts. We need both. The prophecy given at Azusa street was a message and warning, not a final pronouncement. It is a clarion call for us in this present age to pursue righteousness, prayer and the Lordship of Jesus to see Him revealed in His body.

In pursuing the life of Jesus we need to recognize that gifts are just that, gifts, holiness is the character of Jesus worked into us. When we by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body, we paradoxically see the release of the life of Christ through us. Yes, death leads to life!

As we arise to pursue His presence through this death to life paradox we encounter more and more of the Holy Spirit working deeply in our lives. What an adventure – death to life to death to life – His life, gloriously revealed.

More to come…

Discerning Distractions

Consider the expression, ‘Good is often the enemy of best.’ I want to look at this in the light of walking with Jesus. Aside from small distractions, can we miss Jesus through big distractions? Even through ‘spiritual’ ones? Let me illustrate from scripture by starting with a reflective question.

How was Elijah taken up to heaven?

  1. By a fiery chariot
  2. By a whirlwind

The correct answer is 2. Look at the verses below.

And it came to pass, when the LORD was about to take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. 2 Kings 2:1 (NKJV) 9  And so it was, when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you?” Elisha said, “Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.” 10  So he said, “You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.” 11  Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. 12  And Elisha saw it, and he cried out, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!” So he saw him no more. And he took hold of his own clothes and tore them into two pieces. 13  He also took up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood by the bank of the Jordan. 2 Kings 2:9-13 (NKJV)

In this experience we know if we continue reading that Elisha received the double portion that he requested. We also know that he knew Elijah was going to be taken from him as in in verses 2-8 he is told by other prophets three times that he is going to lose Elijah. Elijah repeatedly tried to dissuade Elisha from following him, though this appears to have been a test of Elisha’s focus and commitment rather than a real desire on Elijah’s part to not have Elisha continue with him.

What do we make of Elisha’s request for a double portion? When Elijah called Elisha away from his family Elisha gave up his natural inheritance, which was likely significant given he was plowing a field with 12 yoke of oxen. The double portion was the right of the firstborn. Elijah presided over a company of prophets he was training. Elisha was asking to be acknowledged as his successor by receiving the right of the firstborn; his spiritual inheritance in place of the natural inheritance he had left behind.

We know he received it. How did he receive it? He maintained a right focus. Look at the passage below

11  Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12  and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 1 Kings 19:11-12 (NKJV)

In this passage we have a great wind, an earthquake and then fire. Yahweh was in none of them. He was in a still small voice. The center column note in my bible says this could be translated as a ‘delicate whispering voice.’ While the events are not the same as when Elijah was taken into heaven by a whirlwind, the principle is the same. We can miss Yahweh by focusing on the wrong things. Elijah told Elisha that he would receive the double portion, his commission, if he saw Elijah depart. Elijah’s departure was immediately preceded by the dramatic appearance of a chariot and horses of fire that separated them. If Elisha had been distracted and focused on them he would have missed his commission. Just as Elijah would have missed Yahweh if he had focused on the wind, earthquake or fire. I am not suggesting Elijah was not aware of these things, just that he was not distracted by them. In the same way Elisha saw the horses and chariot of fire, but he kept his focus on what was happening to Elijah and so received what he desired.

A key point is that the chariot and horses of fire were like a sign on the highway. They pointed to something but were not the thing in and of themselves. The references below suggest that the chariots and horses of fire marked Yahweh’s active presence but point to Him rather than being Him.

17  The chariots of God are twenty thousand, Even thousands of thousands; The Lord is among them as in Sinai, in the Holy Place. Psalm 68:17 (NKJV)

3  He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters, Who makes the clouds His chariot, Who walks on the wings of the wind, Psalm 104:3 (NKJV)

17  And Elisha prayed, and said, “LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 6:17 (NKJV)

14  Elisha had become sick with the illness of which he would die. Then Joash the king of Israel came down to him, and wept over his face, and said, “O my father, my father, the chariots of Israel and their horsemen!” 2 Kings 13:14 (NKJV)

15  For behold, the LORD will come with fire And with His chariots, like a whirlwind, To render His anger with fury, And His rebuke with flames of fire. Isaiah 66:15 (NKJV)

8  O LORD, were You displeased with the rivers, Was Your anger against the rivers, Was Your wrath against the sea, That You rode on Your horses, Your chariots of salvation? Habakkuk 3:8 (NKJV)

So how do we apply this to our walk with Jesus? We need to recognize that when we see things that indicate His presence they are generally pointing to something else. Just as trees waving in a breeze indicate the presence of the breeze. Similarly when the Holy Spirit moves upon someone and they weep or rejoice they point to the need to discern what the Holy Spirit is doing in that situation.

Think back. Have you ever been distracted by events in a church service and missed what the Holy Spirit was doing? Whether in a church setting or events or presentations at work I like to sit at the back or somewhere that I can observe the whole room. This was deeply established for me in 1995. A friend and I were in Whistler BC at the first Gathering held by the Watchmen group. We ended up at the back of the room (there were between 1,500-2,000 people present) and many times when we discerned something was heading in the wrong direction or needed to happen we would pray and in minutes one of the leaders at the front would address the issue. I’m not suggesting we were the only ones effecting change, just that I saw the benefit of observing and praying. Often we were scanning the room rather than focusing on the platform. I know that decades ago the Vineyard would train ministry teams to pay attention to what they observed the Holy Spirit doing in people and then direct ministry that way. The point being we need to attend not to what people are doing, which can be a distraction, but rather to what the Holy Spirit is doing, which leads us in the right direction.

When in a group I look around seeking to hear, see and discern what the Holy Spirit is doing and respond to that. While I have over the years missed a lot of what the Holy Spirit was doing, even at times going in the opposite direction, my desire is to follow His leading. To do this requires focus. Among a number of other reasons, this is one reason I don’t like really loud services or services with any type of frenetic activity. This type of environment makes it harder to focus on His heart and see what He is doing.

We are called to be like Jesus and He said He did what He saw His Father doing.

19  Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. 20  For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel.” John 5:19-20 (NKJV)

To see what His Father was doing Jesus had to simultaneously pay attention at the natural and spiritual levels. Developing skill in this requires a trained awareness and focus. It is not a magic gift, it is the fruit of maturity that comes about through intentional practice. Where are we looking as we walk with Him? Are we seeing what the signs are pointing to?

Make Your Calling and Election Sure

How many of us desire to fulfill our destiny, our calling in Jesus? If that is our desire, let me address one of the minor things that I have found to be a major detriment in my own walk. In our own culture I like others have a laptop, home cell phone and a work cell phone. I have been in the habit of getting up and sitting with Jesus and His word early in the morning for three decades. However, something I have also found is the past couple of years is that my spirit has been disturbed, more so in the past couple of months.

I recognize that these tools, worship music via my computer, and the other things that are easily accessible, get in the way. I have thought for the past couple of months that I need to leave my work phone off until 7 in the morning, I just recently started turning it off on weekends, leaving it off first things in the morning is the next step. What firmed up my resolution was attending a leadership course. It wasn’t a Christian one but it was a very good and one of the things the lead instructor spoke about was how we are at our creative best (in terms of brain wave cycles) when we first wake up. Her take was that we should give that time to ourselves to further ourselves. My take is that we should give that time to Jesus to further His kingdom!

For some of you it may be a time other than first thing in the morning that you give to Him. I just know that if it is at all possible this is the best way to start the day, and continue it, being with Him. If we don’t press the pause button on demands and focus on Jesus first thing it is harder later. If we do it is easier to turn to Him and walk with Him throughout the day.

So why is this important? It is important because we can miss His voice and His heart if we are trapped in busyness. I think it is significant that there is only a one letter difference between ‘busyness’ and ‘business’ and that we like Jesus need to be about our Father’s business rather than caught up in our busyness. I say this because I do believe we can miss our calling and purpose by giving our time and attention to the wrong things. Look at the passage below.

11  And Samuel said, “What have you done?” And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered together at Michmash, 12  then I said, ‘The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the LORD.’ Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering.” 13  And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you. For now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14  But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.” 1 Samuel 13:11-14 (NKJV)

What did Saul do here? It was a seemingly small thing but he took on a role that was not his. Now we may agree with Saul. A battle was looming and the sacrifice needed to be made. The Lord may have even forgiven the act if done with right motives. However, why did Saul do it? In verse 12 he states he did it because ‘he felt compelled.’ Some of his troops were leaving and rather than addressing them and dealing with the issue, a role that was his, he took on Samuel’s role. What did it cost him? His kingdom and his future. I highlighted part of verse 13 because this was what was given to David. Had Saul not given in to his inner compulsions David would not have become king and Saul’s lineage on the throne of Israel would have continued. Saul accomplished many things after this, many good things, but over time he descended into madness because he refused to truly address his heart attitude and repent of his sin.

The kingdom and throne were removed from Saul. This throne was extremely significant because David sat on it next and we know whose throne is Jesus seated upon. David’s, Saul’s replacement.

12  “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13  He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14  I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men. 15  But My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16  And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.” ’ ” 2 Samuel 7:12-16 (NKJV)

29  “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30  Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, 31  he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. 32  This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. 33  Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. Acts 2:29-33 (NKJV)

So what does Jesus being seated on David’s throne have to do with whether or not we check our email or text messages the first thing when we get up? Everything! Saul didn’t misuse his authority and make the wrong choice just one time. His insecurity that led to this choice was established by earlier choices. My point is that ‘now’ is a good time to make different choices and establish new patterns. Which is why Peter exhorted us as follows.

10  Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; 2 Peter 1:10 (NKJV)

This verse is not about salvation, it is about our eternal standing that is determined by our choices after salvation. I personally believe I have been making some wrong ones. I have still been getting up early each morning and reading the scriptures and praying but my heart has been distracted for a long time. So, my plan is to return to my first love and start each day spending more time with singleness of heart just sitting in His presence and experiencing His heart, making my calling and election sure. Will you join me?