Simple, Powerful Tools
My wife – in addition to being a wonderful human being – is also a gardener. I’ve learned some interesting lessons from her gardens.
One of the most embarrassing lessons is about garden tools.
When Christmas or her birthday roll around, I often find myself in the garden aisle, looking at garden tools. Do you have any idea how many garden tools there are? There are thousands. There are whole, entire catalogs devoted to the latest, greatest, coolest and most high-tech gardening tools! Can you believe it?
Here’s the embarrassing thing: the latest and most high tech gift tools usually fail in comparison to the good old-fashioned tools like shovels and hoes. Best of all are hands; hands with gloves, yes, but hands are the best tools of all.
So the principle is that in gardening, simple tools are better than complex, new-fangled tools.
I think it works that way in the things of God as well, and that’s where I’m going with this. Years ago, one of my mentors taught me (well, “taught us”, a group of us) about a couple of really simple tools when praying – particularly when asking God questions, which is where our faith sometimes stumbles.
I have to admit that at the time, I thought they were so elementary that they were cheesy, simplistic, foolish. I went along with them mostly because I respect him and his team, and these tools work for his group, but secretly, I thought I was past them.
The tools – or weapons, if you like that metaphor – come from 1John:
The whole premise of 1John is that there are deceivers in the world, both people and spirits. Have you ever heard something in your spirit and asked “Was that God?” That’s really appropriate: there are (IMHO) four possible voices that I could hear when I’m praying (this is very basic):
1. It could be God.
2. It could be my own soul speaking.
3. There are demonic spirits that are eager to deceive, and
4. Under some circumstances, the spirits – or at least the desires and choices – of other people can influence us.
If you think about it, these two verses offer two tests for that very question, the question of “Is this God,” which implies “… or is this some other spirit?” So when they’re going to ask God questions, this guy and his team introduce their prayer time by addressing the Holy Spirit – and then to make sure they’re not being deceived (or "spoofed") – they ask two more questions:
1. “Whom do you say that
This is something equivalent of a test for the email that claims to be from your bank: is it really from your bank, or is it a “spoof” email. The idea is nothing new; the demonic realm has been “spoofing” the Holy Spirit for years! (How else do you explain Mormonism?)
If the answer they hear back is questionable, they know they're being spoofed: it's another spirit claiming to be the Holy Spirit, but it's been un-masked by the simple theology of First John. You can see that these questions necessarily require humility: I must acknowledge that I can be deceived – an admission that many in the Church have difficulty making.
So I’ve begun using these “simple tools” in my own prayer times. I haven’t talked about it (until now) because it embarrassed me: I saw myself as more sophisticated than that. But I’ve begun to value “sophistication” less than I used to, and as I’ve begun to use these simple – even simplistic – questions in my prayer, I’ve found myself asking, “Was that God?” far less often, I’ve found myself becoming more humble in my prayers, and I’ve been learning more. I’ve discovered something of the Holy Spirit’s quick wit, and I’m discovering how much fun He is to hang around when I’m not having to question everything He says!
May I recommend simplicity in your relationship with God, and may I commend the use of these questions when you’re asking for yourself, “Was that God?” It really helps, provided you can get past the simplicity. Like simple garden tools: the simplest disciplines in the Kingdom are often among the most useful.