austin sparks, book ministry, christian ministry, daily devotional

May 23

23 MAY – Growth and Ability by Suffering

Progress and growth are also secured by sufferings. All nature declares it. Growth, development, increase, is by that expanding power which creates a creak and a groan and an ache within the organism; and in the spiritual life it is like that. We speak about growing pains. I believe that is considered to be unscientific now, but it is a very useful phrase. Yes, there are growing pains, and the sufferings of Christ in the members of His Body are related to growth. The difference is this, that in what we have called growing pains it is the growing that is actually taking place which causes the pains, while here, in what we have before us, it is the pains which produce the growth afterward. We grow by means of suffering, there is no doubt about it. Show me a mature spiritual life, and you show me the embodiment of much suffering of some kind – not always physical – a life which has gone through things. Paul found his turning point there “that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raiseth the dead”; a new discovery from the depths. Where he touched bottom, he discovered God in a new way-”God who raiseth the dead”. Such knowing of Him comes along that line. The values of suffering are there.

But then note what he says again “God… who comforteth us in all our affliction, that we may be able…” Oh, there is a lot in that! That speaks of stock in trade, the means for service, does it not? We may often have bad times about our lack of ability in many ways, comparing ourselves with other people and deploring our lack of ability in this and that. Oh, for ability! But what is the greatest ability after all? The best and most fruitful ability is to be able to help people in the deep experiences of spiritual life; to be able to explain to them the meaning of God’s dealings with them, to be able to show them what is intended to be the outcome of it all, to be able to give them some support by counsel which comes from real knowledge – some of that comfort which we ourselves have received of God. That is real service, that is, building up the Body of Christ, the House of God – being really able, in a spiritual way, to strengthen the sorrowing. That comes through suffering.

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May 22

22 MAY – The Need and Value of Suffering

Let it be settled with us once for all that the sufferings of Christ are an absolute necessity. I am going to say a very strong thing, and it is this – that if you know nothing about the sufferings of Christ, there is something wrong with you as a Christian. I am not, of course, speaking of such as have only just entered upon the Christian life, though suffering is sometimes encountered right from the first. But obedience and faithfulness soon lead to the experience of some form of Christ’s sufferings. If you are avoiding those sufferings, if you are rebelling against them, you are taking an entirely wrong line. They are the true lot of children of God. I do not say that you will each have them in the same measure or of the same kind, but you will have them. Ask the Lord if your bad times may not, after all, fit into this. You have been thinking of them merely as circumstances, as disappointments, working out to your misfortune, your disadvantage. But wait; see whether these are not, after all, bound up with your spiritual life, whether they do not bear a relationship to your spiritual growth. Interrogate yourself, examine this question.

Sufferings are necessary for several things; first of all, to keep things real, practical and up-to-date. The Lord is not going to allow any one of us to live upon a past, upon a theory, upon a tradition, upon a doctrine as a doctrine. He will allow us to live only on what is real and practical and up-to-date, and, being made as we are, we do not so live unless we are made to. If I know even a little about the Lord and the Lord’s things, I can tell you perfectly frankly it is because of suffering. I could not and would not have learned unless the Lord had made me learn, and taught me in a very deep and practical school where things were kept right up-to-date, and where every bit of ministry sprang out of some new experience. It is a law which applies to us all. The fact is that these sufferings are absolutely essential to keep things real; people have a right to ask, ‘How did you get to know that? Have you proved that? How much has that been to you in the deepest hours of life, when things were beyond your power? Did that prove to be true then?’ If we are not able to say with all our heart in utter sincerity, ‘I found the Lord to be like that; I have put that truth to a thorough test and proved it’, then we are frauds. The Lord has no place for frauds; therefore He keeps us up-to-date. Reality is by suffering.

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May 21

21 MAY – What God Is Trying To Do In Us

Think of the marvel of Christ in Pilate’s hall and before the High Priest. Spat upon, mocked, struck, in every way degraded — and He is almighty and infinite God incarnate Who, with the parting of His lips, the silent lifting of His hand, could have smitten that crowd out of existence! The centurion was right; when he saw what had happened he was filled with fear and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God.’ We have heard of people suddenly discovering their awful mistake and dying of heart failure on the spot. Think of the shock that has to come yet to those who treated Him as He was treated — when they see Him. You can understand something of what took place in Saul of Tarsus (who knew all about what had happened in Jerusalem) when he saw Him — “I am Jesus” — saw Him in a brightness above that of the noonday sun.

But my point is this, He accepted and endured all that, going through to the bitter end, letting them hammer nails through His hands and feet and fix Him to the Cross, with all the deriding — “He saved others; himself he cannot save… Let (God) deliver him now, if he desireth him: for he said, I am the Son of God.” And He did not stir a finger or utter a word when twelve legions of angels were standing ready for His aid. (If one angel could smite the host of Sennacherib, what would twelve legions do?) That is meekness and lowliness of heart, and that is what God is trying to effect in us. That is the thought of God; that is going to be glory in God’s universe; that will make a world worth living in, and a universe of that nature will be bearable. God thus works in us in these words — “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

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May 20

20 MAY – What Is God Doing With His People?

How do you pray for the Lord’s people in times of trouble? Of course, we are all tempted to pray for their deliverance, to cry to the Lord that they may escape. It may be right at times to pray thus, but suppose the Lord does not deliver? He does not always deliver at once. He allows the situation to continue, to become long drawn out. The enemy will encamp upon that fact and give it his own twist and interpretation — ‘God is not doing anything; He has left His people, is standing back, is not concerned.’ There is no answering voice, no slightest indication that He is taking any account at all. It is like that very often, and that is a real playground for the enemy. God apparently makes no response.

How shall we be delivered from going to pieces, from being overwhelmed in such a time and under such conditions? Only by grasping this thought of God; and then we have to begin to pray along other lines. If God does not act to deliver His people, there is a deeper and a higher thought and purpose than their deliverance, and He is at work upon that; and deeply in them He is going to reproduce the patience, the endurance, the longsuffering of Jesus Christ.

Meekness and gentleness — these are foreign things to our natures; under stress, under adversity, under the cruel hand of tyrannical men, to say, ‘Father, forgive’! He could say “I am meek and lowly in heart.” Oh, you see — the image of His Son. Such testing conditions are a terrible challenge to our natural dispositions. Our whole nature revolts against meekness and lowliness and wants to rise up and be even with the other one, or be the master. Our nature does not accept and delight in opposition, antagonism, frustration, persecution, and all such things.

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May 19

19 MAY – An Inwrought Knowledge of the Lord

We are all conscious how very testing are the limitations that growingly bear down upon us as those who would serve the Lord. They raise many questions and problems in our minds, so far as concerns the fulfilment of what we have thought to be our ministry. The situation is a very trying one. We have to look deeper, still more inward, as to God’s thought.

This is a fact borne out in the case of every servant of God in history who has really come under the hand of God — that the real values of their lives for all time have been those which correspond to the wine of the grape, the thing trodden out in the winepress, the agony of the heart; and you know that it is true in your case that if ever you have had anything at all which you knew to be worthwhile and which has really helped someone else, it has been born out of some travail in your own experience. You have gone into the winepress, through an agony, to produce it and that is the nature of real service to God.

How do we know? — not have information, but know? We only know anything in that deepest sense by going into a situation where we are stripped of everything in order to prove that one thing, and to find in knowing it our deliverance, our salvation. That is the way in which we learn, and there is no gap whatever between that kind of knowledge and our very being. That knowledge is not objective to ourselves, it is ourselves, and when we give that we give ourselves. We cannot stand back from that and say, ‘I believed that once, but I do not believe it any longer; I had those ideas, but I do not hold them now.’ Oh, God could never be satisfied with anything like that.

There may be sifting and adjustment as to our ideas, but the Lord is after ‘true knowledge.’ We stand or fall by our knowledge, because true knowledge is life, is being, and it is what God Himself is in us.

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May 18

18 MAY – Only God’s Spirit Can Conform Us to Christ

“The Spirit… maketh intercession… according to God.”

The Spirit Who knows God, God’s thoughts, God’s mind, is working according to God and working in us. We have received the Spirit of sonship, adoption, by which we cry, Father! We are children of God to be manifested as the sons of God, but all this is because the Holy Spirit is operating, making intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered. “The Spirit helpeth our infirmity.” He comes alongside. He alone can reproduce Christ, conform us to His image. And yet we have thought that service was preaching, teaching, doing this or that or a hundred and one things! Oh, that is only the vehicle of the Spirit. Let us be undeceived about this matter.

The fact is this, that we may advance a long way in spiritual knowledge (I mean in information, the knowledge of the truth) beyond our own real measure, and then have the shock, under terrible conditions, of discovering that all that we have accumulated through the years does not help us. The peril then, of course, is to jettison all the teaching we have had and to say that it is a valueless thing. It is not valueless; but we must recognize that there is all the difference between knowing the thoughts of God in our minds, and the Holy Spirit’s using that knowledge to accomplish God’s ends. Thus we have to come back with every fragment and have very real dealings with the Lord. Our attitude every time must be, ‘Lord, do save me from ever coming to the time when what I have heard proves only to have been a thing heard; make it a basis of Holy Spirit activity to reach the Divine end.’

Now, if you can grasp this, it is going to be great deliverance. Why are the people of God suffering? It is that they may be conformed to the image of His Son. God is going to use all conditions to that end, and, tragically enough, there are multitudes of the Lord’s people who do need a world shaking. They are so bound up with the externalities of Christianity, with its whole structure and system, that nothing but that which will overthrow, disintegrate, destroy, and raise tremendous questions about the whole business will bring them to the place where the Spirit of God can begin really to do the work which He has come to do in them.

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May 17

17 MAY – Conforming To Christ in Common Trials

Take the place where the Lord has put you, where He has called you to live your life and do your work in all the trial and difficulty and suffering of it, and do not strain to get out of it. Do not lose the present value of it by always living mentally or hopefully in a time when you will be out of it, but go back there and recognize that if you are the Lord’s, if you love God and are called according to purpose (as you are if you are in Christ), God is seeking to do something with you and in you by means of the conditions of your present situation. You will only defeat God’s end if you try to get out, and fail to recognize and accept what He is seeking to do.

So we must go back to the sphere and conditions in which the Lord has placed us, with this attitude — God has a thought which relates to me as one of His Own; and that thought is, that through the conditions and sufferings of my life He should develop in me the features of His Son. On the one hand, the features of the old creation may be seen to be more and more terrible and horrible, as I recognize them in myself; but over against that God is doing something which is other than myself, not me at all. He is bringing into being Another, altogether other, and that is His Son. Slowly, all too slowly; nevertheless something is happening. That sonship is not very much manifested yet, but it is going to be manifested. What God has been doing will come out into the light eventually — conformity to the image of His Son; “that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.”

So we look out upon the people of God on the earth amongst whom we are included, and we have to adjust our ideas as to why we are here. There may be things to do, but God is far more concerned with the being than with the doing, and we have to learn all over again what service is. Service to God is essentially spiritual, or, in other words, it is the measure in which Christ Himself is brought into God’s universe for God’s satisfaction; and we know that we can never bring Christ into anyone’s life by preaching. We may talk to the end of our days, but all our preaching is not going to produce Him. We can only help one another in this matter to understand what God is seeking to do.

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