Spiritual Challenges:

Bits, Bites and Pieces:

As a child, I attended a Lutheran church and grew up learning about God’s word through Sunday School, Vacation Bible Schools and Confirmation classes. My neighborhood friends also invited me to their churches to attend some similar events. By time I reached fifth grade, I loved God and confessed Jesus as my Lord and Savior. Though I learned a great deal from these classes, the things I learned seemed like bits, bites and pieces, and I didn’t know how they fit together.

I do not remember learning much about being born again (or rebirth). Nor do I remember being taught the complete meaning of baptism. Though I knew baptism was important because Christ commanded it, I never understood “why?” Nor did I understand that baptism is an outward symbol of the inward change that takes place when a person asks God for forgiveness and invites Him into their heart and life. Neither did I know that this confession and invitation for Jesus to come and dwell in me is what now called being “born again.” This rebirth doesn’t come from just a flippant conversation. It is an act of the Holy Spirit in a person’s heart when God knows they truly mean what they say. God will come and dwell in our hearts if we truly desire it, and ask Him to do so. Once a person is born again, they become a new creation in Christ which will be evident as they begin to walk with God and their life changes. They desire the things of God and turn away from the bad things in this world.

When I heard the phrase “Lord and Savior,” I understood the ‘Savior’ part meant that Jesus saved me from my sin. However, I didn’t know that making Jesus my ‘Lord’ meant turning over my life to Him and letting Him control it instead of me. Though I still struggle with this, I have learned that He is in charge!

These classes also taught me about miraculous works God did for the people in the Bible. But I never really understood that God still does these miracles today, and He will even do them on my behalf (if it’s His will). God does miracles and displays His divine power through the lives of His people to heal, encourage, strengthen, teach and provide for His people. He also uses miracles to draw unbelievers to Himself and to confirm the teaching of His word.

From these classes I learned many bits, bites and pieces. However, many of them didn’t make sense and I never understood the whole message of the Gospel. These bits, bites and pieces of God’s word floated around in my mind but only came together as the Holy Spirit lead me to the missing pieces. This reminded me of putting a jigsaw puzzle together. Though all the pieces are spread out before you, you struggle to put the pieces in their proper place. You look closely at each piece to observe the colors and shapes, hoping you will be able to place them in the whole picture. You continue building until you have the edges together; then you build a large mass in the center of the puzzle. Oh, how you struggle to put that puzzle together! Then later you find out that some of the pieces are missing and until you find them, you can’t put the puzzle together!

Like this puzzle illustration, our Bible teachings can have missing pieces. They can lack pieces in the frame, the large central mass, or even pieces that connect the two together. When our teachings are like this puzzle, we make it harder for students to understand God’s word. Like the puzzle without all the pieces, it’s nearly impossible for students to ‘get the picture.’

In God’s word we see an example of this challenge. Acts 8:26-40 tells us about an Ethiopian eunuch who did not understand a portion of scripture. Because of his lack of understanding and his desire to learn, the Holy Spirit translated His servant, Philip, to the place where the eunuch was. “Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, ‘Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza,’ This is desert. So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go near and overtake this chariot.’

So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah; and said, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’

And he said, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. (…) So the eunuch answered Philip and said, ‘I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?’ Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, ‘See here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?’

Then Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’

And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’

So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.” (Acts 8:26-40)

In this story the Ethiopian eunuch didn’t understand the Scripture he was reading. Because of this, God’s Holy Spirit intervened by sending Philip to explain His message to the man. Thank God the Holy Spirit also brings the missing pieces and plugs the holes in our teachings! Without the Holy Spirit, we would be lost in darkness.

As a young person, I knew memorized the line, ‘God loves me.’ Intellectually I knew Jesus saved people, including me. However, I did not know Jesus on a personal level. I thought God was somewhere far away, looking down on me. I believed in a big, impersonal God who was very busy instead of a loving, compassionate, personal Father who loves me like a child of His very own. I didn’t understand Jesus wanted a personal, one-on-one relationship with me. Later God filled in the missing pieces when He stopped me from taking my life by waking up my newborn just as I put a sharp knife up to my wrist and applied pressure. I froze where I was standing. Then the Holy Spirit brought remembrance of Jesus’ miracles and His love for me into my mind. Shortly after that I realized that God or one of His angels woke my baby up to stop me from making a terrible mistake! God love me so much He intervened with a miracle to keep my from doing this and causing a great deal of pain to others. Not only did God bring back the words, but He acted with power in my life to show me, personally, how much He loved me!

So workers, try to minimize the bits, bites and pieces in your lessons, and please explain how they fit into the foundation of the Gospel, which is Jesus Christ. This will help students as they endeavor to understand God’s word and piece together God’s plan for their lives. Finally, when the Holy Spirit reveals the life and truth of the lesson to your students’ hearts, He will bring forth life!

I believe this problem of bits, bites, and pieces is part of the reason we have so many different Christian denominations in the world today. Many people have learned only bits, bites, and pieces and they don’t have enough of them to put the puzzle together.

In 1 Corinthians 13:12 God’s word tells us that we see put a poor reflection, as in a mirror. It also tells us that we know in part now, but will know fully when Jesus returns and takes us up into heaven. There are also other places in scripture where men cannot fully understand exactly what God is speaking about. The book of Revelation is a good example of this. In Revelation 10:4, as John is writing the message, scripture tells us that a voice from heaven said, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.” So God chooses to keep parts of His future plan a secret from us. In Eccl. 3:11 God says He put eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what He has done, from beginning to end. Consequently, people cannot fully understand the great mysteries of God so we should never think that we understand it all! Most of us only understand bits, bites, and pieces.

Head Knowledge Without Heart Knowledge:

Another challenge the Lord showed me is what I call “Head Knowledge Without Heart Knowledge.” People cannot solve this great challenge, but God is continually working on it through a process called “sanctification.”

Head knowledge, the knowledge we’ve gained from education or experience, can be anything from memorizing facts and working with numbers to learning life skills for survival. It can also be memorized scripture, religious customs and teachings, and terminology. Head knowledge is useless unless we apply it and use it in our lives.

In addition, “religious” head knowledge is powerless with God’s Holy Spirit revealing and demonstrating the truth of it to our hearts. In 1 Corinthians 2:14 scripture tells us, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” People in their own knowledge and strength can do nothing to bring about God’s will/ nor can they thwart God’s will and plan.

Heart knowledge is when God’s Holy Spirit takes the Word of God and reveals the deep, penetrating truths of it to our hearts, causing us to understand that Word and to desire to change our lives. The Holy Spirit, in His own time and place, will take memorized scripture or Bible lessons presented by a Christian worker, and reveal the true meaning of it to our hearts. God will use circumstances in our lives (good or bad) to bring about His revelation. Only “heart knowledge” can transform lives in miraculous ways. Perhaps and example from my life can illustrate and help clarify this.

As a young woman I memorized the words “God loves me,” and I could have found the scriptures in God’s Word to back up this statement. Yet many “puzzle pieces” were missing from my understanding until one day God’s Holy Spirit filled in some of the holes and turned my head knowledge into heart knowledge. This day came during a time in my life when I was walking through a valley of despair because of several circumstances in my life.

First, having married my previous husband at the age of 19 and being ignorant of his alcoholism, I was reaping destructive consequences from a bad choice I made. Verbal, mental and physical abuse came upon me as a result of His addiction. Manipulation and mental badgering became a game to him (when he was intoxicated), and he gained self-esteem by winning the game. I put up with daily abuse because I could never win the game. He was bigger, smarter, and a faster thinker. He won every time because he refused to admit defeat and give up the battle, even when he lost and knew he was wrong. In spite of everything, at that time I still loved my husband and prayed for year that God would heal our marriage. Only later did I come to realize that God would not force my previous husband to come to Him and get the help he needed.

Secondly, our family went through a two-to-three year period of time when we lost ten of our close relatives who passed away for various reasons. Among them were all four of my grandparents, my previous husband’s father, and his youngest brother who died in a horrible logging accident.

Thirdly, I had just birthed our first child, a son, and was in the six-week period after birthing known as postpartum blues. I was trying to adjust to having a newborn around, and I was extremely tired from being awake day and night caring for the baby.

Over several years I suppressed so much pain from the abuse and other circumstances that my physical body emotionally shut down. I was numb and exhausted, and I spent my days and energy worrying and focusing on the problems around me, and the fact that everything looked bleak and hopeless. I had no hope, and saw no chances of my situation ever improving. My husband continued to drink more frequently and more in quantity, and every night he got drunk, the abuse got more intense.

One morning, after a night of verbal abuse, I believed Satan’s lie.

“You are worthless,” the words of my drunken husband kept running through my mind like a phonograph record that skips, playing the same few lines over and over. “You never do anything…and you don’t contribute anything…nobody loves you…you’re the spoiled boss’ daughter…you are worthless,” and the message would start all over again.

“Maybe you’re right,” I thought to myself. I believed I had no purpose, no reason to live, and no hope for the future. As these bad thoughts kept bombarding my mind, I reasoned that since I was worthless and not contributing anything, and it looked like things would never improve, I might as well end it all and get out of the painful situation. So I reached into the silverware drawer, pulled out a sharp steak knife, and sat down on the floor. With tears falling from my eyes and my heart pounding loudly, I held the knife to my wrist and started to apply pressure. I wanted to end my suffering.

At the exact moment I applied pressure to the knife, my newborn son cried loudly from his bedroom. His cry pierced through my hysterical state of mind, and I froze. Thoughts instantly flooded my mind, “What will he think? Will he blame himself for what I did? Who will take care of him?” Suddenly I realized that I couldn’t do this to him. I knew I had to live for him if for no other reason. So I went to his room, picked him up, and tried to calm him down and myself as well. Then I realized I needed help, but I didn’t know where to find the kind of help I needed.

Proverbs 15:3 tells us, “The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.” The Lord was watching me that day, and He had a different plan for my life!

Suddenly I remembered the years of hearing that Jesus loved me, and hearing about the great miracles He performed in the Bible. Scripture tells us, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things, and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26) That day the Holy Spirit reminded me about learning that Jesus loved me, and brought revelation to me: Jesus or one of His angels woke my baby up and the exact moment I tried to end my life.

“He must truly love me,” I thought to myself. “Even though I’m an emotional wreck and worthless, Jesus must truly love me! What other explanation could there be? I was home alone with the baby, and no one knew what I was doing except God.” That moment I knew in my heart it was God who saved me. His love for me became a reality. No longer was it just empty, memorized words. God’s Holy Spirit brought heart knowledge of His love for me into my life! That day God demonstrated His love for me and kept me from taking my life. This revelation of God’s love brought tears to my eyes, and I cried. But these tears were different; they were tears of joy!

Psalm 40:1-4 (NIV) tells us, “I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord. Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust […].”

Because I had heard the Gospel, the Holy Spirit brought revelation of God’s love for me, personally, into my life. Now I know in my head and my heart that God loves me. His love has drawn me close to Him, and I’ve become a born again, blood-bought child of God. God has transformed my life, made me a new creation in Christ, and filled my life with love and joy! Now I have a personal, one-on-one relationship with Jesus. His is with me–in my heart–wherever I go. He promises to never leave me or forsake me, and I believe Him because I know He loves me.

Having a personal relationship with God doesn’t mean that my problems are taken away. Rather, we work through the problems together. I pray and give my problems to Him, and ask Him to fight on my behalf. Then He leads me and I follow Him. He gives me joy (His strength) to either overcome the problems, work through the problems or give the problems to Him and let Him solve them instead of carrying them with me as a big burden. When I give the mountains to Him, He works them out while I stand back and watch and wait for the deliverance of the Lord. God will come and deliver me because He is faithful and He loves me!

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