We’ve all heard of the three “wise men from the east” (Matthew 2:1) and the role they played in the story of Jesus’ birth. Who are the three wisest people you know? Do you know how to gain wisdom like theirs?
Wise King Solomon wrote in Proverbs 13:20, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise.” The wisest men, of course, are in Scripture, for divine inspiration fills their words. And the wisest of them all is the perfect Son of God, Jesus Christ. So if you want “the wisdom from above” (James 3:17), go often to the Bible and walk with the wise people who live in its pages.
But what about the wise who have lived since the times of the Bible, including the wise people of God alive today? How do we walk with them?
One of the more obvious ways is to read their books and the stories of their lives. Walk with them through the lines they toiled over and let them tell you their best and wisest thoughts. Glean the insights discovered by the biographers who walked with these wise men several hours every day for many months and years.
You can also walk with wise people by hearing them. Go where they will be speaking. Listen to them via radio, the Internet, or recording.
Find a wise person to disciple you. You may know a wise role model, but protest, “He’d never be willing to spend time with me.” You’ll never know unless you ask. Look for creative ways to offer a skill or service to him in exchange for his wisdom. One of the busiest, most sought-after pastors I know spends two to three hours each week with a young man who offered his services as a personal trainer. As he “walks with the wise” from one weight machine to another, his soul is trained spiritually and the pastor’s body is trained physically.
When you anticipate being with an unusually wise person, prepare a list of questions. One of the most profitable days of my ministry came when I learned that I’d be in a van for hours with several other men, including a couple of well-known, experienced ministers, who were driving together to a conference. I made a list of the toughest theological and practical questions in my ministry at the time. I’m sure that Solomon would agree that “riding with wise men” can be as profitable as walking with them.
You will become like those with whom you “walk” or spend a great deal of time. If you spend much of your discretionary hours with foolish or worldly people—including those on TV shows and commercials—you’ll grow more foolish and worldly. But if you become one who “walks with the wise” you’ll become wise.
Who has displayed wisdom in an area where you sense a need for more wisdom? Through books, recordings, or in person, walk with them and you will become more wise.
Taken from Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), pages 115-16.
One of my favorite stories in the Gospels is the Transfiguration of Jesus. I sometimes imagine that if I could go back in time and be present for any event in the Gospels prior to the crucifixion, I would choose the Transfiguration.
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17:1-9, ESV)
What actually happened here? Of course, there’s no way we can fully understand it this side of Heaven. But did Jesus “simply” reveal the glory of some of His divinity as Moses and Elijah arrived on Earth (having momentarily departed Heaven), while the omnipresent Father spoke so as to be heard in that geographic location?
Or did Heaven and Earth overlap in such a way so that the place where Jesus stood was at that moment neither fully Heaven nor fully Earth, but rather He and His two visitors conversed in a temporary nexus between the earthly world and the spiritual world?
Or third, and applying the terminology of our three-dimensional world to a spiritual realm, did Heaven press so closely to Earth at this point that although Moses and Elijah were still in Heaven they were literally at the “edge” of it, and God’s voice came from across the border of Heaven to Earth, and Jesus’s face and clothing shone because of His immediate proximity to the heavenly realm and the glory of God? Or is there a better analogy? Only God knows.
In any case, a short time after this incomparable experience, possibly less than a week after the Transfiguration we read where Jesus’s disciples “argued with one another about who was the greatest” (Mark 9:34).
Think of that. Peter, James, and John saw—not in a dream or a vision, but with their eyes—Jesus transfigured. “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” Have you considered how He must have looked? His appearance surely took their breath away.
Then they saw Moses and Elijah—men in the front rank of Jewish history; heroes they’d heard about heard all their lives—appear out of thin air, as if beamed down from Heaven. And they heard Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus, speaking with voices more real than those you hear on your television when White House reporters ask questions of the president. We can only wonder at the specifics of what the disciples heard this heavenly duo say to the Man with the sunlike face.
And then they heard the voice of God. This alone would shake a person to the core, stunning their senses. They see the face of Jesus suddenly begin to radiate a brilliant light, they see Moses and Elijah appear from the past (imagine how it would affect you if Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon suddenly stood before you), then God in Heaven speaks directly to them in an audible voice.
Despite all this, in a matter of days they join with the other disciples in arguing about which of them is the greatest. If I’m Peter, I’m saying things like, “Ha! You wouldn’t think you’re the greatest disciple, Matthew, if you knew what I saw the other day.”
In other words, after this unearthly, next-worldly, never-to-be-forgotten experience, they still sinned. And of course, biblical theology tells us that this Transfiguration-watching trio didn’t wait several days until that argument arose before they sinned again.
At first, it’s almost hard to believe that a person could sin after such an experience. And yet, it’s just like every other encounter with a glimpse of God’s glory in Scripture. From the appearance of the pillar of fire in the Exodus, to the consuming blaze and heart-melting sounds atop Sinai, to Isaiah’s vision in the temple, to Paul’s pre-death visit to Heaven, to the revelation of Christ, Heaven, and the future to John on Patmos—they were experienced by sinners who nevertheless remained sinners after the experiences, despite “the surpassing greatness of the revelations” (2 Corinthians 12:7).
Though many observations could be made, two stand out to me as I think on these things.
First, the depth of human depravity. Nothing we experience in this body, no matter how frightening or glorious, can stop us from sinning. We could visit Hell or Heaven, and though the experience would doubtless have some indelible impact, no amount of terror or beauty could wring all the sin out of us. We could behold something that would take our breath away, but soon we’d breathe again. Just as surely, we could see something that would cause us in the moment to resolve never sin again, but soon we’d sin again.
Second, the greatness of the grace of God that He would still love and save creatures who are such sin factories that even after He allows them to glimpse the most glorious things in the universe they still choose to sin. When we come to Jesus for rescue from the sin that saturates us, God immediately forgives every sin we ever have or will commit. After that, though, we still do sin, even though He sends the Holy Spirit who causes us to loathe it and to fight it and to long for release from it. Knowing every sin we will commit after He forgives us, He loves us still and determines to keep us forever.
There’s only one experience that can cleanse us from all traces of the cancer of sin’s presence forever. It’s what the Bible calls “the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). This is the final, everlasting, freedom from sin that those “who have the firstfruits of the Spirit” (that is, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit given to all the followers of Jesus) “groan inwardly” and “wait eagerly” for (Romans 8:23). And whether in the grave or alive when Jesus returns, He will transform the bodies of all His people to be fit to live forever with Him in a sinless, perfect, and glorious Heaven.
That’s because, as Philippians 3:20-21 puts it, “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
In other words, one day all we who are in Christ will experience our own transfiguration, changed suddenly by the power of God from “our lowly body to be like his glorious body.”
“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)
Coming in July, 2015 from Crossway Books and available for pre-order now: Praying the Bible
Some of the most important changes in my life occurred when I thought to ask, “What does the Bible say about this?”
The way I spend the Lord’s Day, for example, and my thinking about what activities please God in worship were dramatically changed when I purposed to study what God’s Word said about those matters.
Far more often than we do, Christians should ask such questions. In our relationships, finances, use of time, priorities, parenting, simplifying, and everything else, we should more quickly ask, “What does the Bible say about this?”
The wisdom of frequently asking this question is obvious if we believe truths like these:
• “The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7b)
• “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105)
• Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)
• “All Scripture is breathed out by God, and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17
Nothing will simplify our lives more than finding the will of God on a matter and doing it. And the best way to discover the will of God is to search the Word of God.
What’s the most significant issue in your life right now? What major decision is before you? Be sure to ask, “What does the Bible say about this?” Then, as you turn to the Bible, pray the prayer of Psalm 119:18: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”
From Donald S. Whitney, Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), pages 50-51.
Sneeze, and someone is likely to say, “Bless you!” Back in the days of Moses and his brother Aaron, to speak words of blessing to someone was no empty formality.
In Numbers 6:22-27, God provided specific instructions for how the Old Testament priests were to pronounce the Lord’s blessing on His people:
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
“So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
This was all God’s idea and initiative, and shows us how He loves to bless His people.
God’s blessing came through a mediator (Moses) and a priest (Aaron). The wonderful terms of this blessing still come to God’s people, but today they are granted through Jesus Christ, God’s greatest Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5) and Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16). All the benefits described here—being blessed and kept by God, etc.—are given to all who seek them through Jesus.
When you have Christ as your Mediator with God, the New Testament says that you become part of God’s “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). As such a priest, you have the authority to use the words of Numbers 6:22-27 to ask for the Lord’s blessing upon others.
These are not magic words. The blessing of God does not result from the mere repetition of this or any other prayer (see Matthew 6:7). Still, it was God Himself who gave us this prayer. And we can expect God’s blessing to accompany sincere devotion to God’s will.
Have you prayed for God to bless you in these ways through Jesus? The greatest blessing from God is not His gifts but Himself. He sent Jesus to give us this blessing (see John 14:6). To all who come to this Mediator and Priest, God promises, “I will bless them” (verse 27).
Will you pray this blessing for your church? These words weren’t originally addressed to individuals, but to God’s people as a whole. Likewise, today we should pray for God’s blessings upon His people worldwide, and especially for our own local church.
Will you pray this blessing for your family? Pray it for them in their hearing, not just in your private prayers. And place Jesus in the center of it.
The unifying principle for all of life, including our spirituality, is found in 1 Corinthians 10:31—“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” This is the sun around which every spiritual practice, every decision, every prayer, and everything else—including our efforts at simplifying—should revolve.
Concern for the glory of God in all things was the heartbeat of God’s Son, Jesus. When only one of ten lepers (and he a Samaritan) whom Jesus had cleansed returned to thank Him, Jesus said, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return to give praise [i.e., glory] to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18). Jesus wasn’t indignant because He received so little thanks for healing these men. He wasn’t thinking of Himself; rather He was jealous over the lack of glory God received for this wonderful miracle.
According to John 12:27-28, Jesus had realized that the time for His arrest and crucifixion is at hand. Knowing He will soon die under the wrath of God, listen to His primary concern: “Now is My soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name” (emphasis added, here and below).
A short time later, just hours before He was taken into custody, Jesus taught us to ask in His name when we pray. Notice the reason why He promises such prayers will be answered: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son”(John 14:13). The passion that propelled the entire life and ministry of Jesus Christ was His zeal for the glory of God.
From matters as crucial as the death of Jesus, to those as mundane as eating and drinking, the Bible presents the glory of God as the ultimate priority and the definitive criterion by which we should evaluate everything.
So when faced with choices about your spiritual life, ask first, “Which choice(s) will bring the most glory to God?” Choose and live in such a way “that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever” (1 Peter 4:11).
Taken from Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), pages 45-46.