Jim Cymbala

B, Childress
Jun 04 2013

Alone in my London hotel room, I prayed that God would minister to me as I read the Bible.  My heart was hungry.  Far
from home, I really felt my need for the Lord that day.  I wanted to be fed in my innermost being.  Although I knew I
needed him every day, my spiritual hunger that morning was intense.

I read through the first few chapters in I Thessalonians from Weymouth’s translation of the New Testament. I’d studied
those chapters many, many times before, yet suddenly, powerful truth I’d never seen jumped off the pages at me.  In
those chapters, the apostle Paul revealed his ministerial heart in a unique way, and while meditating on it, my spiritual
eyes were opened.  For the first time, I became aware of something vital that was missing from my ministry, something
that was probably missing from a lot of churches too.  I sat on the floor and prayed, eventually falling prostrate as I wept.  
I saw where I had failed God.  That day God spoke to me through his Word in a way that would help me for the rest of my

Not only did that revelation change my ministry forever, but I believe it has helped thousands of other leaders too.  From
that morning, I developed several messages I’v preached to pastors around the world.  Repeatedly, pastors have come
up to me when I have preached it and said, “I needed to hear that.  It was as if a light went on for me while you spoke.”

I knew what they meant, because I felt as if a light had gone on that day in London for me too.  But that wasn’t an
isolated occurrence.  Spiritual illumination often occurs when I’m reading the Bible, and I know it does for many other
believers too.  Scriptures that were memorized as a child suddenly infused with rich layers of meaning.  

How does that happen?

It’s the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit.

A Holy Appetite

As we already know, the Christian church was born when the Holy Spirit was poured out.  Amazingly, in the hours
afterward, thousands of people converted to the faith, and the new believers fell into an inspired new rhythm of
congregational life.  “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and
to prayer” (Acts 2:42).

In the beginning, Christian doctrine was transmitted orally since there wasn’t a written New Testament.  The apostles
spoke the gospel and the associated teachings they heard from Jesus.  This was the Word of God that the early
believers “devoted themselves” to.  Other translations render the Greek in this passage as “they went on to give
constant attention to” or “they occupied themselves continually.”

That kind of dedication to the Word is always a vital sign that the Holy Spirit is moving in the life of a person or a church.  
Believers have a hunger to hear, read, study, and in particular, understand more about the Word of God.

That makes sense, of course, since the Holy Spirit was the one who inspired the Bible.  He was the author who inspired
the writers.  The Bible is his book.  Spirit-controlled Christians don’t usually have to force themselves to read the Bible;
the Spirit gives them a holy appetite for it.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, so he will always direct us toward God’s truth.  When a person has little interest in
the Word, or when Scripture seems dull and tedious to a church body, that is a sign that something is seriously out of
sync.  When we don’t have respect for the Word and reverence for its authority, and when we don’t humble ourselves to
hear what God has said, we’re on the wrong path.  And that’s true regardless of whether it’s done in the name of using
cutting-edge technology, being relevant to today’s culture, or relating to people at all costs.

I know that it’s possible today to gather large numbers of people together on a Sunday without a strong emphasis on the
Word.  In fact, many of the people sitting in the pew might be totally content without hearing careful Bible preaching and
exposition.  But when we wander away from the Word, thinking we can live without it hour after hour, day after day, week
after week, we cease to grow spiritually and open ourselves to spiritual deception.  The apostle Peter wrote, “Like
newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that
by it you may grow up in your salvation” (I Peter 2:2, emphasis
added).  The Word of God contains the vital spiritual nutrients we need – every day – to grow in Christ.  Our cravings for
more of God’s Word aren’t hunger pangs we work up.  A holy appetite grows inside of us through the work of the Holy
Spirit that causes us to crave truth.

A Divine Teacher for a Divine Book

Who better to teach us about God’s Word than the person who wrote the book?  But is it possible that the Holy Spirit is a
better teacher than even Jesus?  The short answer is yes, because only he can teach us from the inside out.


I took geometry during my sophomore year in high school, and for the life of me, no matter what that teacher said, I
couldn’t figure it out.  I didn’t know an isosceles triangle from a bagel with cream cheese.  None of it made sense.  Then
about two months into the semester, the teacher got sick and a new teacher replaced him.  Under her tutelage,
suddenly, the light went on for me.  For the first time, I understood triangles, angles, and parabolas.  (Well, maybe not
the parabolas.)  I had to give credit for my newfound understanding to the new teacher.  It was the way she explained
things that helped me understand geometry.

Many times I read the Bible, and I get stuck.  I can read the sentence before me – the subject, the verb, the object – but I
don’t see the spiritual meaning for my life, nor does it find a place in my inner person.  It’s just a mental exercise.  Does
that ever happen to you?

Two thousand years ago, the disciples had Jesus as their teacher, though they called him by the more commonly used
term of the time, rabbi.  But even they had problems understanding what Jesus taught them.  There are countless
examples of Jesus saying something and the disciples completely missing the point.  They just didn’t get it.  In fact, one
of them even argued with him, saying, “No, you won’t go to the cross.  I won’t let that happen.”  Jesus would teach them
about trusting God, and in the next chapter, we see them not trusting God.  Jesus even used himself as an example
during a lesson about humility.  During the Last Supper, Jesus showed himself as a servant of the Lord and washed the
disciples’ feet.  Yet during that same dinner, the disciples argued about which one of them was the greatest (Luke 22:24-

But Jesus promised that when he died, another teacher would come and help them to properly digest spiritual truth.  “I
have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.  But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes,
he will guide you
into all the truth
.  He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.  
He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you” (John 16:12-14, emphasis

Jesus not only told them a better teacher was on the way, but he also said the new teacher would convey truth that he
couldn’t pass on at that time.  In other words, Jesus was saying, “I have more to say, and the new teacher will be the one
to teach you about it.”  The Spirit “will guide you into all the truth,” which includes applying the message to the hearts of
the disciples.  Then the meaning of Jesus’ life and death, faith, hope, love, the power of prayer, and much more would all
be made crystal clear to them.


Just like any minister today, Jesus preached using only his voice.  And just like any congregation today hearing a
sermon, the disciples could hear his words only with their ears and process them with their minds.  But the truth of God is
different than mathematics or the laws of science.  It can be understood and appropriated into our lives only when it is
revealed to our innermost being; that is where its life-changing power works (Matthew 13:18-23).

A divine book must have a divine teacher so that its message can be revealed on a spiritual level.  Otherwise the
message just crumbles into facts that reside only in our brain cells.  That Jesus was born in Bethlehem is a fact.  
Understanding the glorious meaning of Immanuel, God with us, and the significance of him lying in a stable requires
divine teaching.  So it is absolutely necessary for the Holy Spirit to be our teacher if the Bible is to be truly understood.  
The Spirit can overcome the human limitations of voice, ear, and brain.  He teaches in the classroom of the heart.

That is why we can read a portion of Scripture for years and then read it again, and
whammo, it comes alive!  We
understand it is a brand-new way.  We ask,
Why didn’t I see that before?  That is the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Holy Spirit teaching is so important because Satan uses all kinds of things to deceive and lead believers and churches
away from the truth.  He can even use people who claim they are teaching the truth.  For example in I John we read a
warning: “I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray.  As for you,
the anointing you
from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you” (2:26-27, emphasis added).

Why would God say we don’t need anyone to teach us when he was the one who put teachers into the church body?

Of course teachers play an important role, as do apostles, evangelists, prophets, and pastors.  But even when teachers
do their best, the only way for us to be ultimately blessed by the Word is through the inner teaching of the Holy Spirit.  
The Spirit is faithful to help us know truth from error and keep us from satanic distortions.  But for all of that to happen,
we must come with humble, teachable hearts.

The Eyes of the Heart

It is possible to find a simple believer just a few years in the Lord, in the mountains of Peru, who understands more about
the Bible than a theologian with a PhD.  In fact, that uneducated Peruvian may not just know more about the Bible, but
he may also know the Lord in a way that the Greek or Hebrew scholar doesn’t.  Remember, it was Jesus who rejoiced
and said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and
learned, and revealed them to little children” (Luke 10:21, emphasis added).

It is easy for many of us to approach the Word of God daily with little dependence on the Holy Spirit.  Often, we don’t
pray before we read the Bible even though we need his help to understand God’s Word.  The smarter and more
educated we are, the harder it is for us to come like little children, trusting the Spirit to make the Word real.  But we also
need to pray for pastors to preach with the help of the Spirit and for God to give us listening hearts so that the Word will
build us up.  We
must have the Spirit’s help, and if we ask in faith, he will help us.

The psalmist prayed, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law” (Psalm 119:18).  Notice that the prayer
doesn’t ask for open eyes to “read your law” or even to “understand your law.”  No, the psalmist’s prayer asks God for
something we rarely think about when we open the Word.  “Open my eyes that I may
see wonderful things in your law.”  
He wasn’t talking about his physical eyes.  He was talking about the eyes of his heart.

We all have two sets of eyes.  We have the eyes in our head, and we have the eyes of the heart, which the Bible refers
to in many places (e.g., Ephesians 1:18).  The process of seeing spiritual things through the eyes of the heart, not
merely the mind, is called “revelation.”  It’s not some wild and woolly, holy-roller craziness.  It’s an everyday working of
the Holy Spirit in all who desire it.

In that same psalm, the writer also says: “Praise be to you, LORD; teach
me your decrees” (Psalm 119:12, emphasis
added).  He Ian’t content just to read them.  No, he calls out to God, “Lord, you gave me your words, but now you must
come and make them clear.”  He recognizes that he can’t do it on his own.

Too many of us pick the Bible and read it like we are reading the
New York Times or People magazine.  We’re confident
in our ability to understand Scripture because we might have a high IQ or because we went to school and got a degree
from a university.  But we’ll only understand the shell of it that way.  Sure we’ll gain some facts; we might even
understand some sketchy truths; but spiritual teaching that transforms our lives will elude us.

In a later chapter, we’ll look at D.L. Moody, who was one of the greatest evangelists of all time.  Yet he didn’t have a high
IQ and he wasn’t educated in a seminary.  In fact, he was semiliterate!  How did he become such an effective preacher,
drawing huge crowds and leading thousands of people to Jesus without an education?  He was taught by the Holy Spirit.

As a speaker, I have found that organizing material into a three-point message with a conclusion is not the hard part.  
Rather, the hard part is allowing the Spirit to make the passage real to my heart.  If I am going to preach about love, for
example, and the Holy Spirit hasn’t dealt in a fresh way with me about the unfathomable depth of God’s love and my sad
lack of it, how will I effectively stir my listeners with God’s truth?

Preaching becomes most effective when God has granted the speaker spiritual revelation through the Spirit.  Without his
assistance, we pastors can easily preach in a self-righteous, judgmental manner because we haven’t confronted our
own shortcomings and our need for God’s grace.  We will fail to have compassion for the congregation.  I’ll admit, I’v
preached those kinds of sermons.  May they be obliterated forever!  But when the Spirit has opened both the Word and
the speaker’s heart, the message will edify and encourage.

Pride and Prejudice

If we repeatedly read the Bible without the help of the Holy Spirit, it tends to reinforce our own prejudices and rock-hard
doctrinal positions.  We end up merely finding ammunition for what we already believe.  We become so spiritually proud,
so convinced of our own positions, that the Spirit is hindered in helping us to grow in the things of God.

Go back to the 1850s in America when that horrible institution of slavery was being challenged and abolitionists raised
their voices against slaveholders.  In the South, there were Bible-thumping preachers who twisted God’s Holy Word to
defend the wickedness of slavery.  Some actually held that the enslavement of African-Americans was part of God’s
purpose for the earth!  With closed minds and bitter hearts, they used the Word of God for unholy purposes.  And their
congregations shouted, “Amen!”  Those bigots weren’t ungodly atheists; they were ministers and congregants with open
Bibles before them.  Talk about spiritual deception!

The same thing had happened to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day.  They held a prejudiced view of what the Messiah
would be like and what he would do when he came.  Remember when Nathanael said, “Can anything good come out of
Nazareth?”  At the time, Jerusalem was divided into two provinces.  The south was considered to be more devout while
the north was considered to be more secular because of the influence of the trade routes.  Jesus came from Galilee in
the northern province, and so the religious leaders were all thinking the same thing as Nathanael.  How could the
Messiah come from there?  Jesus didn’t fit into their theology because their hard hearts were darkened – even as they
taught from the Scripture.

But Jesus said to them, “
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life.  These
are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39- 40, emphasis
added).  The fact was they were too blind to see that the Messiah the Scriptures promised was standing five feet in front
of them!

The leaders who plotted Jesus’ death were the religious fundamentalists of their day.  Not only did they hold the Law in
great reverence; they worshiped it.  But did they understand its true meaning?  No.  They referenced God’s Word
without any spirit of revelation, brokenness, or submission to God.  Without the help of the Holy Spirit to understand the
meaning of what we read, we’re susceptible to reading our own biases into God’s Holy Word.  No wonder our reading
can become dry and boring.  When we see only what we want to see in the Bible, it loses all power to transform us.

Rocking the Boat of Our Traditions

I find that most believers don’t change more than 5 percent from what they believed when they were only two years in
the Lord.  Imagine any other field of study where people didn’t progress in their knowledge and understanding of the
subject.  If a student in the eleventh grade were still operating with his second-grade education, we would say something
had gone tragically wrong with his education.

Yet, because we grow up in a certain tradition, we develop a narrow sectarian view of truth.  When confronted with Bible
verses and truth uncomfortable to us, we hide behind, “But this is the way we’v always done it.  This is what we’v always
believed.”  I’ve heard folks say, “This is our Baptist way of doing things.”  Or the Presbyterian way, or Pentecostal way,
or Lutheran way, or Catholic way.  Substitute your own denomination or church name.  After two years in that climate,
anything in the Bible that rocks their boat and challenges their assumptions is dismissed with: “It can’t mean that.  It must
have another meaning in the Greek.”  When we pick up the Bible and don’t ask for the Spirit’s help, it’s like saying, “God,
do a new thing in me, but I’m not going to change anything I believe.”  That’s an odd prayer, Ian’t it?  No wonder we grow
so little in our faith and see so few converted to Christ.  William Law, an eighteenth-century English devotional writer,
said, “Thousands stand ready to split doctrinal hairs and instruct others in the fine meaning of Scripture words – but
there are so few through whom the Holy Spirit can work to bring [people] to new birth in the kingdom of God.”

Often we get our definitions for important things not by what the Spirit shows us in Scripture, but by what we saw growing
up in church.  “Oh, that’s what preaching is!”  Or, “That’s what worship should look like, because that’s the way we’v
always done it in the church I attend.”  It is difficult for all of us to come to the Word of God and say, “Holy Spirit, teach
me, even if it goes against what I’v been conditioned to believe.”  And yet we must.  We will never understand God’s
purpose for the church and us individually unless we humble ourselves and pray, “Spirit of the living God fall fresh on

Every January, many of us make New Year’s resolutions to read our Bibles more.  But without the Spirit’s help, our carnal
human tendencies often overcome that resolution.  And when we do open the Word, we often read matter-of-factly, just
to say we have had our “devotional time.”  I can tell you from my own experience, devotional times that are rushed or
mechanical lead to days that don’t go very well.

It takes time for the Holy Spirit to teach us in our hearts the meaning of a passage.  If we don’t wait on the Holy Spirit,
trusting him, we can grow cold and fall out of communion with God even while having devotions every day.  We’ll just be
heaping up verses, maybe even memorizing them; we’ll know the references, but we’ll miss the wonderful teaching of the
one who was promised to guide us into all truth.  But when we allow the Spirit to teach us, oh the understanding, the joy,
and the insight that comes from the Word.

The apostle Paul wrote, “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’ – the
things God has prepared for those who love him –
these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.  The Spirit
searches all things, even the deep things of God” (I Corinthians 2:9-10, emphasis added).

If you and I want to grow in our spiritual lives, we can.  As we open our hearts to the Holy Spirit working with the Word, we
can even understand the deep things of God.  Don’t you long for that?

That’s what I want.

Every time we open the Bible, let’s stop and pray, whether for fifteen seconds or for fifteen minutes, asking the Spirit to
teach us.  When I read the Bible, I want God to talk to my soul.  “Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I trust
your commands” (Psalm 119:66).  Then our lives will be more like Jesus every day.


SPIRIT RISING, by Jim Cymbala with Jennifer Schuchmann, Copyright 2012, Zondervan.