DAY 40: How to Examine Yourself

Solitary confinement tempts you to endless brooding over your past life. The apostle Paul writes, “Let a man examine himself ” (1 Corinthians 11:28). How should one proceed?
There is no specific instruction in the Bible, but Christian experience of hundreds of years has taught us at least one thing: Do not be too thorough in self-examination. A little creature in the laboratory can be examined so extensively that it dies from overexposure. Rather than examining all the details of your own life, try to fathom the depth of your faith in the value of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Once a man was greatly concerned about the state of his soul. No sermon or religious book could satisfy him. Finally, he heard about a hermit who was reputed to have great wisdom. The man
took a horse and rode to the mountaintop where the sage lived. He found the sage in meditation at the entrance to his cave. The sage asked the man what he desired. “I seek salvation,” said the man.The sage was silent for a long time. Then he said, “Why don’t you seek a horse instead?” “I have a horse,” the man replied. Turning toward the rear of the cave, the sage remarked, “So that is it,” and said no more. As the man rode down the mountain on his horse, he thought and thought about his meeting with the sage. All at once he was enlightened: Why should he seek a horse? He had one. He was riding on it. Therefore, why should he seek salvation? God sent His Son into the world that the world might be saved through Him. Salvation had already been purchased. A man riding on a horse should not bother to seek a horse unless he had overtired or killed the one he has. The Savior cannot be exhausted. His salvation is available to all who receive it. Jesus has come to seek and to save what is lost. His desire for us to be in paradise is much greater than our own. His desire to forgive our sins is much greater than our desire to be forgiven. Salvation cannot be earned, but only accepted. When the man arrived in the valley, he understood.

Christians often say, “I was saved five or fifteen years ago.” This cannot be so. Christ bought salvation for all of us 2,000 years ago, when He died for us on Golgotha. Perhaps it was only five or fifteen years ago that we realised it and accepted His offer. When we approach the Lord’s Supper, the main thing we must ask ourselves is, “When I hear the words, ‘This is My blood, shed for you and the remission of your sins,’ do I understand them as clearly addressed to me? Do I know, as surely as a rider knows he has a horse under him, that my sins are forgiven and forgotten and dealt with?” If I understand this, I have examined myself well and am worthy of communion.


DAY 39: Respect Poverty

In prison, I come to the lowest level of poverty. I possess nothing, which makes me look in a new light at this verse: “Do not rob the poor because he is poor, nor oppress the afflicted at the gate” (Proverbs 22:22). Do not rob the poor of his only wealth, that precious jewel, poverty itself. St. Francis of Assisi spoke about sorella poverta, sister poverty. Ascetics and saints of all ages have abandoned earthly joys for this valuable friend. Moses preferred the poor life of a pastor to being grandson of Pharaoh. Christ, possessor of heaven, chose birth in a stable, life as a carpenter among oppressed people, and death among thieves on a cross. He said, “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). By what right do I take away the source of a man’s blessedness? If I deprive him of poverty, I may deprive him of the kingdom of heaven. Imagine how it would have been had the rich man of the parable (Luke 16:19–31) been what is usually called goodhearted and divided with poor Lazarus his purple robes and fine linen, and invited him to dine sumptuously with him every day. He would have called Lazarus into future hell. Poverty of the soul is the entryway to the kingdom of heaven. The ugly embryonic stage when we look like frogs is the prologue to manhood. Destroy a caterpillar because it is a repugnant worm and you will have destroyed the future butterfly. Taking away a man’s poverty, we take from him the source of eternal happiness. But must we not help the poor? We surely must—by sharing his poverty, by demonstrating our regard for his high estate. Mother Theresa of Calcutta set an example. By our sharing the experience of his poverty, a poor man is given the sense of his dignity before God and other men, whereas a few pennies thrown to him degrade him. We commonly confound the unpleasant with the bad. Poverty is unpleasant, but it is a Christian’s trial of love. What girl is not seduced into admiring a handsome boy who offers her rings and bracelets and cars and castles? Would she choose to live with that same young man in a humble cottage?

It was easy for Job to love God with his family and cattle and gold secure. But what was the nature of his love? A trial had to be made in order to strengthen Job’s faith. Before I went to prison, my own social and material situation was very comfortable. In moments of self-examination, I asked myself whether I really loved God or loved rather the many outward and inner gifts with which He had endowed me. Then, in solitary confinement, hungry, trembling for cold, without even shoes—then I could really check whether I loved God or His gifts. How I rejoice to discover that songs of praise flew from my lips under those circumstances! My faith had been tried. Christians do not fear hunger and would not readily rob the poor man of this experience. For Jesus says even to the rich, who are familiar with black caviar and other dainties, “I have food to eat of which you do not know” (John 4:32). The angel Raphael supposedly said to Tobit in the apocryphal book of this name (12:19), “It seemed, truly, as if I ate and drank with you. But I used an invisible meat and a beverage which men cannot see.” The meat of the angels, of which men also can partake, consists in seeing God, in loving Him even in times of affliction, and in doing His will in all things. You cannot sit luxuriously in restaurants, listening to jazz music, being served by half-naked waitresses, and eating from an endless menu, and at the same time participate at the heavenly banquet. No one can have both worlds. Heavenly food is reserved for those who are hungry. Kierkegaard spoke truly when he said, “To represent a man who by preaching Christianity has attained and enjoyed in the greatest measure all possible worldly goods and enjoyments, to represent him as a witness to the truth is as ridiculous as to talk about a maiden who is surrounded by her numerous troop of children” (Attack Against Christendom). After years of preaching, a pastor should be poorer than before he began his ministry. Our God is that of the narrow gate and of the needle’s eye. If, Cries of Truth from Behind the Iron Curtain 19 because of your social position you are not among the hungry, this is a simple matter to remedy: you can fast. But do not rob the poor of poverty. Do not rob the hungry of heavenly manna. Your well intentioned acts of philanthropy can be robberies.


DAY 38: About Prayer

Jesus taught us to “cry out day and night to God” (Luke 18:7). However, God should not be likened to some unrighteous judge from whom justice can be obtained only by wearing him out with insistent pleas.
Why is it written, “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:38)? If He is full of love, why does He not simply provide the laborers without waiting for our prayer?
We pray in order to obtain clarity. Only a life of prayer will teach you that neither questioning God nor theology have any part in prayer. Prayer will teach you to pass your life in silence, at the bosom of a God whom we cannot fully understand.
When extreme need or threat arises, it is good to cry out. Nobody whispers when threatened by a dragon. God says to Samuel, “Their cry has come to me” (1 Samuel 9:16). If the cry is missing, the realization of our great danger in this valley is missing. But after the cry the silence returns. It was a biblical custom to ask for signs from God. Jonathan tells his armor bearer, “If [the Philistines] say thus to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place…But if they say thus, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up. For the Lord has delivered them into our hand” (1 Samuel 14:9,10). Ask for certain
concrete things, as Jonathan asked for guidance in initiating a battle against his enemy. Make it clear what sign you wish and consider receiving the sign as guidance. You can even ask for answers to
concrete questions as David does in 1 Samuel 23:10–12. Let prayer for others, even for great sinners, be one of defense. Rabbi Nehemiah said, “When the Israelites constructed and worshiped
the golden calf, Moses sought to appease God’s anger, saying,

“Lord of the universe, they have made an assistant for You.
Why should You be angry with them? This calf will assist You: You
will cause the sun to shine and the calf will cause the moon to
shine; You will take care of the stars and the calf will take care of
the planets; You will cause the dew to fall and the calf will make
the winds to blow; You will cause the rain to fall and the calf will
cause vegetation to sprout.” The Holy One, praised be He, said to
Moses, “You are making the same mistake that the people are making!
This calf is not real!” Moses then replied, “If that is so, why
should You be angry with Your children?” (Exodus Rabbah).
Let your words with God also be wise and convincing. A man can pray in any decent bodily position. For instance, Elijah put his face between his knees, which is possible only after much physical exercise (1 Kings 18:42). Use your eyes in prayer. I do not know how the custom of closing your eyes in prayer arose. Jesus’ habit was to lift them. The bridegroom in Solomon’s song says to his bride, “You have ravished my heart with one look of your eyes” (4:9). (“Having ravished the heart” is expressed by the single Hebrew word levavtini, which is the strongest word for uniting two hearts.)
Jesus is attentive to our eyes while we pray. He observed that a tax collector “would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven,” knowing his own sinfulness, and says, “This man went down to his house
justified” (Luke 18:13,14). At other times, believers show God great love through the expression in their eyes. Learn to use your eyes correctly in your communion with God and with men.


DAY 37: The Need For Theological Clashes

Paul quarreled with Peter and Barnabas in matters involving doctrine and church leadership. He taught us to reject heretics (Titus 3:10). The apostle John likewise advises us not to
receive into our house anyone who brings a false doctrine (2 John 10).
In later ages the difference between Christian truth and heresy became blurred. At Interlaken, Switzerland, two rivers merge, one thick with salt and mud and the other pure. For a time they run in
the new bed without mingling, as if there were a border between them. But finally they merge. The mud triumphs, invading everything. It is difficult to distinguish water from mud, but this filtration
must be made. Truth alone frees us. Theological error only compounds bondage. Debates and clashes on religious issues were not avoided in the time of the apostles and they cannot be avoided
Immediately after the Reformation, the newly founded Protestant church was torn by four main theological quarrels:

1) The fight against antinomians led by Agricola. Nomos is the Greek word for law. The antinomians asserted that law should be the business only of magistrates, and should play no role in
religion. Luther opposed them, saying that law comes from God and must be respected under the new covenant.

2) Schwenkfeld and Osiander did not believe that Christ’s righteousness can be ascribed to us. They believed that in order to be justified before God, we must have an essential righteousness of
our own, and that Christ cannot manifest Himself fully in us because of our inherent sinfulness. Luther taught to rely totally on Christ for our salvation.

3) Professors Major and Amsdorf went so far in denying any human merit in salvation that they declared good deeds as harmful for those who wish to obtain eternal life. Luther believed
that good deeds are the natural fruits of faith.

4) The great synergetic quarrel was started by Melanchthon who granted the human will a part in our salvation. Our will for the good, he said, is not dead, but only sick, and can still cooperate with the Holy Spirit. In opposition to him Flavius believed that fallen man can only oppose divine endeavor, and God forces us to be saved. Luther kept the golden middle with his doctrine that our will plays no active role in salvation, but can participate by suffering, receiving, and accepting it. We have to endure theology and pass beyond it to love our brethren.
Theology can only be endured. It is repugnant to make the Word of God a matter of debate, most often of low quality. But there are many repugnant things a man cannot avoid. We have to orientate ourselves among the different tendencies in religious thought. If we are unable to recognize heresy, neither will we be able to discern the truth. We therefore have to accept the strife among believers both in
the past and those today, but in this, as in all other matters, right measure is the most important Christian value.


DAY 36: Lesser Known Personalities of the Bible

Paul writes to the Romans, “Erastus, the treasurer of the city, greets you” (Romans 16:23). An inscription was found in excavations at Corinth, “Erastus, procurator, aedile, laid the pavement at his own expense.” According to archaeological evidence, the pavement is from the middle of the first century. The identity of name, location, and date make it likely that the subject is the same person. To receive a greeting from such a person, one who does not profit from his position to enrich himself, but, on the contrary, spends from his pocket for a public need, would be an honor indeed.
Gamaliel is the only New Testament name also celebrated by the Talmud, a book commonly opposed to Christianity. It is believed that Gamaliel’s father, Simeon, was the old man who took the baby Jesus in his arms and said the prayer, “Nunc dimittis” (Luke 2:25–35). His grandfather was the renowned Rabbi Hillel. Gamaliel was so honored that he is one of seven Jewish teachers to whom the name “Rabban” was given, a title also born by Jesus. Unlike other Pharisees, he was not a bigot. It is said that he once bathed in Greece in a place where a statue of a heathen goddess
stood. Reproached for this, he silenced his critics by saying that the bath was not built for the goddess, who does not have the habit of washing herself, but for men, the statue serving as ornament.
Gamaliel was Paul’s teacher of religion. He also undertook the defense of St. Peter when persecuted.
His attitude toward Christianity fluctuated. After a period of mild tolerance he became its passionate adversary. He composed a prayer against the Hebrew Christians which is still recited three times daily in Orthodox synagogues: “Let there be no hope to them that apostate from true religion, and let heretics, how many so ever may be, all perish as in a moment. And let the kingdom of pride be speedily rooted out and broken in our days. Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, who destroyest the wicked and bringest down the proud.”
Archaeologists, however, discovered that Gamaliel’s tomb bears a Christian inscription, suggesting that toward the end of his life he may have received Christ as his Saviour.


DAY 35: Learn from Flowers

As Christians, we should know something about flowers. Jesus taught, “Consider the lilies” (Matthew 6:28). He calls Himself “the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valleys” (Song of Solomon 2:1). Without this biblical teaching, we would never have had Masefield’s lyric at the end of “The Everlasting Mercy.”
O lovely lily clean,
O lily springing clean,
O lily bursting white,
Dear lily of delight
Spring in my heart again
That I may flower to men.
We can learn from flowers not to be disturbed that the Christians are constituted of so many denominations. There are 35,000 varieties of orchids alone. The number of Christian denominations has to increase even more. Our ultimate hope is for every believer to be an Abraham, a friend of God and a man under God’s direct guidance, each to be his own denomination. Men differ from each other. Each person will have his own gifts and visions, and uniting them will be a profound love that transcends their differences of view.
Flowers do not quarrel with each other. The right relationship between denominations and believers is mutual admiration. Secondly, every flower is wisdom personified. God has given orchids a masterly variety of shapes for the purpose of multiplication. The Mediterranean’s Ophrys resembles a female wasp and emits a similar odor to attract the male wasp. In the wasp’s attempt to mate with the plant, he picks up pollen masses, which eventually brush off onto another flower. The Santa orchid has a platform which resembles a nectar-bearing flower, so it attracts bees in search of nectar which it does not have. Australia’s flying-duck orchid springs a trap when an insect lands on its lips. With a jerk, the orchid tosses the intruder into a cup formed by petals around a green column. The escaping insect
carries away pollen masses to deposit on the next flower. Other orchids display other curiosities to attract specific pollinators (National Geographic Magazine).
Christians also wish to multiply. Paul writes, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law;
to those who are without law, as without law. . .to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:20–22).
Christianity has an amazing multitude of approaches, all of them correct so long as we pursue the one aim: ever to increase the Church of Christ.