In my Scripture reading recently I came across Psalm 86:11, which says this:
Teach me your way, Lord,
that I may rely on your faithfulness;
This caught my attention because the psalmist is indicating that in order to experience (rely on) the Lord’s faithfulness, he needs to be taught the Lord’s way. It struck me that the necessary pathway to experiencing God’s faithfulness is learning to walk in his ways. In other words, we experience the faithfulness of God toward us when we walk in his ways.
I’m sure this is quite a simple concept. It doesn’t seem very profound, but I think there’s something important about it. It reminds me of Jesus promising his disciples the comforting presence of the Spirit if they obey his commands, abundant fruitfulness if they abide in him, overflowing joy if they love one another.
For some this might sound suspiciously like salvation-by-works, but it’s good to remind ourselves that this is simply what Jesus actually said. When one of his disciples asked him why he was going to reveal himself to them and not publicly, to the world, he said, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching.”
He delineated a stark difference between his disciples (those who love him and obey his teaching) and “the world,” and the key to remember is that all of Jesus’ promises were made to his disciples, not to the general public. To attempt to claim his promises without the commitment to love Jesus by obeying his teaching is the same kind of thing as trying to cash checks that aren’t written out to you. The promises are like checks written out to disciples of Jesus, not to just anyone who would like to claim them. And disciples are people who love Jesus and obey his teaching, those who bear his name, those who are in covenant relationship with him.
(Please understand, I’m not talking about perfection in performance – I’m talking about the trajectory and intention of your life. Do you intend to obey Jesus’ teaching? Are you arranging your life in such a way to enable obedience to his teaching? If so, you are a disciple, no matter how dismal your performance on particular days.)
Perhaps a good biblical example of people trying to claim promises without being disciples is the seven sons of Sceva (good name for a rock band?). One of Jesus’ promises to his disciples is that they will have authority over sickness and demonic oppression. So Paul, being a disciple of Jesus, was seeing extraordinary things happen through him: sicknesses cured, evil spirits fleeing.
So the sons of Sceva thought this looked like a pretty cool trick, and they were trying to claim the same power by using Jesus’ name in their exorcisms: “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches,” they would say, “I command you to come out.”
One day an evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.
Protection from spiritual darkness is a promise given to disciples of Jesus, not to just anyone who uses his name at the end of their prayers. Sceva’s sons were trying to cash a check that wasn’t written out to them. They weren’t committed to living out covenant faithfulness, they were just trying to do some parlor tricks. They were trying to cash in on God’s faithfulness without actually walking in his ways.
Returning to the Psalm quoted above, God’s faithfulness is not a generic force that comes whenever someone says the magic words, it is God’s personal activity on behalf of his covenant partners. It is a specific experience of God doing what he says he’ll do, fulfilling his promises as we walk in his ways. Thus, “Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness.” We experience his faithfulness as we learn to walk in his ways.