Whether we can do the Lord's work depends not so much on OUR WORDS OR ACTIONS, but rather on what COMES FORTH from us. We are not able to edify others if we say one thing and emit from our lives another thing, if we act one way and live another way. What emanates from us is an important consideration.
We often say that our impression of a certain person is good or bad. How do we receive such an impression? It is not just from his words, nor even from his actions. A mysterious something expresses itself while he is speaking or acting. It is this which gives us the impression.
What others sense in us is our most outstanding feature. If our mind has never been dealt with and is undisciplined, naturally we shall use our mind to contact people, and they will be struck by its forcefulness. Or if we possess an inordinate affection, if we are overly warm or cold, others will take note of this in their impression of us. Whatever our strongest characteristic is, it invariably will stand out and impress others. We may be able to control our speech or action, but we are unable to restrain that which expresses our nature. What we are, we cannot but reveal.
II Kings 4 recounts how the Shunammite received Elisha. "And it came to pass on a day that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a wealthy woman, and she constrained him to eat bread. And so it was, that as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither to eat bread. And she said to her husband, Behold now, I perceive that this is a holy man of God, who passes by us continually." Note that Elisha preached no sermon, worked no miracle. He merely dropped in and ate whenever he was passing that way. By the way he ate, the woman recognized him as a holy man of God. This was the impression Elisha gave to others.
We should ask ourselves, what impression do I give to others? How often we have emphasized the need for our outward man to be broken. If this brokenness is not accomplished, others meet the impact of our outward man. Whenever we are in their presence they are made uncomfortable by our self-love, or pride, or obstinacy, or cleverness, or eloquence. Perhaps the impression we leave is a favorable one, but is God being satisfied? Will such an impression meet the Church's need ? If God is not satisfied, and the Church is not helped, any impression we leave is for naught.
Beloved, God's full intention requires that our spirit bee released. It is imperative for the growth of the Church. How urgent, then, that our outward man be broken! Without this breaking our spirit cannot come forth, and the impression we leave with others will not be a spiritual one.
Suppose a brother is speaking on the Holy Spirit. Though his subject is the Holy Spirit, his words, his attitudes, and his illustrations are full of himself. Perhaps without knowing why, the audience inwardly suffers while listening to him. His mouth is full of the Holy Spirit, yet the impression he leaves with his listeners is of himself. What is the spiritual value of such empty talk? None.
Rather than stressing teaching, let us place more emphasis on what it is that comes forth from us. God is not watching to see if our teaching becomes deeper; He wants to lay hold of us as individuals. If our nature is not properly dealt with, we may give forth so-called spiritual teaching, but there is no spiritual impartation. How tragic when we merely impress the outward man yet do not impart something of a life impression to the inward man!
Again and again God arranges our circumstances to break us in our strong point. You may be stricken once, twice, but still the third blow must come. God will not let you go. He will not stay His hand until He has broken that prominent feature in you.
What the Holy Spirit accomplishes when we are being disciplined is totally different from what happens when we are hearing a message. A message we hear may often remain in our mind for several months, possibly even years, before its truth will become operative in us. Thus the hearing often precedes the real entering into life. However, through the disciplining of the Holy Spirit, we more quickly see the truth and thus possess it. How strange that we grasp mere knowledge through a message much faster than we learn reality through discipline ! Once we hear, we remember. But we may be disciplined ten times and still wonder why. The day discipline accomplishes its purpose is the day you really "see" the truth and enter into its reality. So the work of the Holy Spirit is to break you down on the one hand and to build you up on the other. Thus your heart will say : "Thanks be unto the Lord. Now I know that His disciplining hand upon me for these past five or ten years has been just to break this strong point in me."
Having considered the disciplinary working of the Holy Spirit, now let us see how He employs another means to deal with our outward man. Besides discipline there will be enlightenment. Sometimes these two are used simultaneously, sometimes alternately. At times the discipline is shown in circumstances aimed at leveling our outstanding feature : at other times God graciously shines upon us to enlighten us. The flesh, as we know, lives hidden in darkness. Many works of the flesh are allowed to exist because they are not recognized by us as such. Once His light reveals the flesh to us we tremble, not daring to move.
We have especially observed this at times when the Church is rich in the Word of God. When the ministry of the Word is strong and there is no lack of prophetic ministry, light breaks out clear and strong. In such light you come to realize that even your condemnation of your pride is itself pride. In fact your very talking against your pride is boastful. Thus as soon as you see pride in the light, you are sure to say, "Alas! So this is pride-how abhorrent and unclean it is!" Pride seen in the light of revelation differs completely from the pride talked about so glibly. Enlightenment exposes the true condition. Immediately it dawns upon you that you are ten thousand times worse than any of your preconceived notions of yourself. Right then and there your pride, your self, your flesh wither away and die with no hope of survival.
Whatever is revealed "in the light" is slain by it. This is most marvellous. We are not first enlightened and then, with the passage of time, gradually brought into death. Rather we fall down instantaneously at the coming of light. As the Holy Spirit reveals, we are dealt with. Revelation, then, includes both seeing and slaying. It is God's unique way of dealing. Once the uncleanness is really exposed, it cannot remain. Therefore light both reveals and slays.
This being slain by the light is one of the most needful Christian experiences. Paul did not rush to the roadside and kneel down when the light shone upon him. He fell to the ground. Though naturally capable and self confident, he reacted to the light by falling down somewhat perplexed, yet inwardly exposed. How effectual was this light which struck him to the ground ! Let us note that this happened all at once. We might assume that God first enlightens our understanding and then leaves us to work it out. That is not God's way. God always shows us how hateful and polluted we are, and our immediate response is : "Alas ! What a wretch I am—so unclean, so despicable!" For God to reveal our true self, is to fall down as dead. Once a proud person has been truly enlightened, he cannot so much as make an attempt to be proud any more. The effect of that enlightenment will have its mark upon him all his days.
On the other hand, this time of enlightenment is also the time for believing—not for asking, but for bowing low. God follows the same principle in saving us as He does in working in us afterwards. When the radiancy of the gospel shines upon us, we do not pray : "Lord, I beseech Thee to be my Savior." To pray thus, even for days, would bring no assurance of salvation. We simply say "Lord, I receive Thee as my Savior." Instantly salvation happens! In like manner in God's subsequent working, as soon as light comes upon us, we should immediately prostrate ourselves under His light and tell the Lord "Lord, I accept Thy sentence. I agree with Thy judgment." This will prepare us for more light.
In that hour of unveiling even noble deeds, performed in His name and in love to Him, will somehow lose their luster. In every highest purpose you will detect the meanest inclination. What you considered as wholly for God now appears to be riddled with self. Alas! self seems to permeate every vestige of your being, robbing God of glory.
To man it has seemed there is no depth which he cannot plumb! Yet it takes God's revelation to expose our real condition. God will not stop until He lays us bare that we may see ourselves. At first He alone knows us, for we are always bare and naked before Him. But once God has disclosed to us the thoughts and intents of our heart, we are then laid bare before ourselves. How shall we ever lift up our head again? Leniency with ourselves becomes a thing of the past. Though we used to think we were better than others, now we know what we really are, and we are ashamed to show ourselves. We search in vain for a word adequate to describe our uncleanness and despicableness. Our shame weighs upon us, as though we bore the shame of the whole world. Like Job we fall before the Lord and repent of ourselves : "I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes. Surely I am beyond healing."
Such enlightenment, such self-abhorrence, such shame and humiliation, such repentance delivers us from the bondage of long years. When the Lord enlightens, He delivers. Enlightenment is deliverance, and seeing is freedom. Only thus does our flesh cease to operate, and our outward shell is broken.
Let us next compare the discipline and the revelation of the Holy Spirit. The discipline of the Holy Spirit is usually a slower process, repeated time and again perhaps for years before the point at issue is finally dealt with. Furthermore this discipline of the Holy Spirit oftentimes exists without any supply of ministry. Not so with the revelation of the Holy Spirit. This often comes swiftly, within a few days or possibly a few minutes. Under the light of God you will see in a very little time your true condition and how useless you are. Then, too, revelation frequently comes through the supply of the Word. That is why the revelation of the Holy Spirit multiplies when the Church is strong and the ministry of the Word is rich.
However, no one should imagine that in the absence of such rich ministry and flowing revelation he is then free to live according to his outward man. It is important to remember that the discipline of the Holy Spirit is still operative. Though one may be deprived of contact with other believers for years, the presence of the Holy Spirit with him is an assurance that he can arrive at a good spiritual state as long as he is responsive to the Spirit's discipline. While the weakness of the Church may result in some members lacking the supply of the Word, yet they have only themselves to blame if they miss the value of the Spirit's discipline. Further, their failure does not mean that the Holy Spirit has not or does not discipline them. Rather, it means that the years of discipline have produced no effect. Though the Lord has smitten once and again, yet they remained ignorant of its meaning. Like a stubborn horse or mule void of understanding, they seem not to fathom the Lord's mind—even after ten years of dealing. How pitiful are such ! We can only make this conclusion; discipline is plentiful in many lives; but recognizing the hand of the Lord in that discipline is rare indeed.
How often when the Lord deals with us we see only the hand of man. This is entirely wrong. Like the Psalmist our attitude should be, "I was dumb, I opened not my mouth, for Thou hast done it" (Psalm 39:9). We must remember it is God who is dealing with us, not our brother or sister or any other person.
Has the Lord for years disciplined us, but instead of recognizing His hand, we blamed it on other people or on fate? May we be reminded that EVERYTHING IS MEASURED BY GOD FOR US. He has predetermined its time, its boundary, and its force, in order to break our hard-todeal-with outstanding feature. Oh, may we have the grace to recognize the meaning of His hand in seeking to shatter this outward man. Until that happens people will only meet that imperious self when they come in contact with us. Until that breaking is effected, our spirit cannot flow forth freely toward them.
Earnestly we pray that the Church may know God as never before; that God's children may be increasingly fruitful unto Him. The Lord intends to bring us into the place where—not only our gospel message and teaching ministry are correct—but we as well are right. The issue is : can God be fully released through our spirit?
When the spirit is released, it supplies the needs of the world. No work is more important or thorough than this, and nothing can take its place. The Lord is not so much concerned with your teachings or sermons as He is with the impression you give. What is it that comes from you that is the final yardstick. Do you impress people with yourself or with the Lord? Do you let people touch your teaching or your Lord ? This is really vital, for it determines the value of all your labor and work.
Beloved, be assured the Lord pays far more attention to what comes out of your inner life than what comes out of your mouth. Do not forget that in every contact you make with another, something comes out of you. It is either yourself or God flowing forth, either your outward man or the spirit. Finally, I would ask, when you stand before people, what is it that comes forth? And lest we are too quick to give an answer, let us remember this basic question can only be rightly answered "in His light."
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