Be Stirred, Not Shaken

"We ask you not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled…" ~ II Thes. 2:2 *** "But stir up the gift of God that is within you by the laying on of hands…" ~ II Tim. 1:6

Category: Word Studies

The Pursuit of Happiness…What Does That Mean?

The beginning of the Declaration of Independence makes an interesting statement.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The writers believed that this was self-evident, meaning that it was completely obvious and didn’t need explanation.  The right to life (a.k.a. to stay alive) and right to liberty (a.k.a. freedom) make perfect sense to us.  But the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” doesn’t have the same meaning to us today as it did to the patriots in 1776.

We live in a world today that is obsessed with the pursuit of happiness.  But it’s not a world that our founding fathers would even recognize.  Today the words “happy” or “happiness” have become watered down, speaking more to a temporary mood or shallow state of being.

But when that sentence was written, the phrase signified a combination of fulfillment, contentment, self-worth, dignity, and community or civic duty.  I love the quote from this article, which sums it up by saying that “happiness was about an individual’s contribution to society rather than pursuits of self-gratification”.

So our founding fathers thought that this was a core tenet of humanity, but is the pursuit of happiness a biblical principle as well?

Related:  Comparison & Envy: the Key to Unhappiness

What does the bible say about happiness?

A lot, it turns out.

It’s worth just getting this out of the way to begin with:  pursuing happiness does NOT mean pursuing your own desires at the expense of others, or at odds with God’s way.  It does not say “the pursuit of pleasure”.   And it’s NOT the pursuit of materialism, humanism, and hedonism (II Tim. 3:1-4).  Solomon was clear that pursuing these things was pointless vanity (Eccl. 12), and the bible reiterates this again and again.

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Flee vs. Pursue: What Does God Command?

“Flee from the midst of Babylon [representing sin], and every one save his life! Do not be cut off in her iniquity” (Jer. 51:6)

Our society seems to tell us that running away from something is cowardice, or maybe the act of a victim—that it’s better to face things head-on.  And while that might be true for some things, the bible tells a different story when it comes to how we must react in the fact of temptation.  That, we’re told, we must flee.

What comes to mind when you think of the word “flee”?  It’s a word that isn’t used as often in today’s world, but shows up pretty frequently in the bible.  The main word translated “flee” in the New Testament is pheugo, which means to run away or escape—pretty straightforward.  But its underlying meaning has a greater urgency, a “run for your life to avoid getting caught” aspect that’s critical to understanding the command.  This isn’t just “run”.  I run because I’m in a hurry, for health, sometimes even for fun.  Instead, this is a dead sprint because you are under attack, and you might not survive.

It’s interesting to look at what we’re told to flee in the bible, and more importantly, why God commands this.  But God gives us something to move toward, beyond just running away, and that’s just as important to understand.

Fleeing our own human nature—the danger of “what if?”

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‘Kicking Against the Pricks’ – Stubbornness vs. Submission

What does the bible mean by “kicking against the pricks”?

“The words of the wise are like goads, and the words of scholars are like well-driven nails, given by one Shepherd” (Eccl. 12:11)

Have you ever had one of those weeks, or months or even years, where you feel like nothing is going the way you want it to? It seems like getting anything to go your way is such a struggle, that you’re walking into the wind or swimming against the current. I think we’ve all been there, and it’s easy to wonder at the reason. It may very well just be that you’re having a bad week, a string of mishaps all coming at once, or that you’re simply going through trials for a purpose. There’s another possibility we should all consider during this sort of experience, though—that we’re resisting God’s will. The apostle Paul tells the story of his conversion a few times in Acts. After seeing the blinding light, he said, “And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the pricks’” (Acts 26:14).

To us, this is kind of an odd statement, but it was a well-known proverb in Paul’s time. A prick (or goad, as it’s translated in the NKJV) can be any sharp point that pierces or stings but is generally known as the ox goad, a heavy, sharp piece of iron used to drive oxen. A stubborn and unyielding ox would kick against the goad, driving the instrument in deeper and hurting no one but himself.

When a person is kicking against the pricks and resisting God’s will, it is not necessarily out of a place of hostile rebellion. Take Paul/Saul, for instance. He was following his path of persecuting Christ’s disciples because he believed they were perverting Judaism (the faith of God’s true people), and leading people astray. His actions were executed through righteous zeal. That didn’t make them right. We often see this in the church, when people decide one particular idea or doctrine is right, and blaze a path of destruction through brethren trying to convince them of the same. Goads are used on oxen to stimulate action, urge onward, or steer in the right direction, as well as to prevent them from going the wrong way, and God has a variety of tactics at His disposal to do the same. When someone tries to forge their own path away from God’s will, God will often try and nudge them back in the right direction; when they’re sitting still in a place of apathy or stagnation, He may prod them into picking up the yoke and moving forward.

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“In All Your Ways Acknowledge Him” – What Does It Mean?

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” ~ Proverbs 3:5-6

For many people this is a memory verse, both because it’s quite succinctly and beautifully phrased, and also because it is one of those snippets that can be a kind of life mantra.  Often when we read this verse the emphasis is on the first sentence, while the second sentence—that of acknowledging Him and allowing Him to direct us—gets glossed over.  I read it recently and the word “acknowledge” jumped out at me, because I had never really ever thought about what that really means.

Understanding “acknowledge”

See, while the technical definition of the word hasn’t really changed, the way our society uses it definitely has—basically to “give a nod” to”.  If you’re walking down the street and you see someone you’ve met before, you’ll often acknowledge them with a nod or wave, basically saying “yeah, I see you”.  Or you may acknowledge someone when they give you a gift, or in centuries past a nobleman might acknowledge an illegitimate child as being his own (bestowing some legitimacy).  So by today’s standards, “in all your ways acknowledge Him” is basically the equivalent of professional athletes pointing to the sky after a touchdown—meaningless.

The trouble is that these understandings of the word render the verse in Proverbs very distant and cold, when the meaning is much more powerful.  The word translated “acknowledge” in most bible translations is yada (H3045), which generally means to know or recognize.  In the case of Proverbs 3:6, it is to know His ways inside and out and to recognize that He is the ultimate arbiter of our lives.  It’s a root word so it can be translated many different ways and is used almost a thousand times in the Old Testament.  While most translations use “acknowledge”, the NIV says “in all your ways submit to Him”, while the NLT says “seek His will in all you do”.  Throughout the rest of the bible, yada is most often translated as some form of “to know” (i.e. known, know, knowing), but other uses include “respect”, “understand”, “be sure in”, “consider”, “discover”, and “discern”, and these start to paint a more complete understanding of the word.

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