When Christians attend Church and come away from the service feeling uplifted and refreshed, but without receiving or participating in the presence of God, or hearing God speak to them, there is a problem.
When Christians study the Bible each morning under a cloud of boredom and duty, yet come away feeling enlightened, uplifted and refreshed, but without actually experiencing the presence of God, or hearing God speak to them through the Bible, or allowing God to reach and search their hearts with His Word, there is a problem.
When Christians fall out of love with God yet continue to use biblical principles to rule their lives in order to achieve success, or well being, or peace, or any form of gain, there is a problem.
In each case, the problem is that we are basically indulging in magic.
In each case, we have allowed the spirit of religion to enter our lives and control us, as we indulge in meaningless ritual and tradition of our own making. When we evolve ourselves in Christian practices without the presence or participation of the personhood of God, we have denigrated Christianity from relational, to sterile ritual religion. When we do, the persons of God the Father, Lord Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit, are no longer established in our lives. We no longer have a personal relationship and instead, we are substituting them and are using ceremony, song, sermon and service to fill the void of God’s absence. We are using things of our own choice and making, over which we have control.
The Bible is the inerrant Word of the Living God, given to us as a guide to life. As Second Timothy 3;16-17 says of the Bible:
“All Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfected, thoroughly furnished to every good work.”
Magic, on the other hand, is the use of rituals, spells, charms and curses to control people and events and is demonic.
Using the Bible and Bible Scripture without including God, is treating it as magic. We read that so-and-so did such-and-such an action and the results were miraculous; so we take that example and attempt to do the same. If we attempt to do the miraculous without God and the full participation of the Holy Spirit, we are attempting magic. Let us look at the New Testament for an example of this. Acts 8:14-25 gives us a clear description of the principle under discussion here:
“And the apostles in Jerusalem hearing that Samaria had received the Word of God, they sent Peter and John to them; who when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.
For as yet He had not fallen on any of them, they were baptized only in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Then they laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
And when Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, Give me this power also, that on whomever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Spirit.
But Peter said to him, May your silver perish with you, because you have thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God.
Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.
And answering Simon said, You pray to the Lord for me that none of these things which you have spoken may come on me. Then, indeed, having earnestly testified and having spoken the Word of the Lord also having preached the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans, they returned to Jerusalem.”
The incident recorded in Acts 19:11-17 gives an account of exactly what happens when we start using magic – and in this case, the retribution was swift in coming:
“And God did works of power through the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons from his skin being brought onto the sick, the diseases were released, and the evil spirits went out of them.
And certain from the strolling Jews, exorcists, undertook to name the name of the Lord Jesus over those having evil spirits, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.
And there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so.
But answering the evil spirit said, Jesus I know, and I comprehend Paul, but who are you?
And the man in whom the evil spirit resided leaped on them, and overcoming them he was strong against them, so that they fled out of the house naked and wounded.
And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks who lived at Ephesus, and fear fell on all of them, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.”
What happened was the seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish high priest, has used the word of God as magic and suffered the consequences. They have seen Paul working and thought that they would be able to copy him and obtain the same results. This was their view of religion, simply fulfilling traditions and rituals handed down from those who had once heard the Word of God in the past.
The sons of Sceva were firsthand witnesses to Paul and the works of other apostles and disciples and so were able to both see and hear the techniques used by them, then blatantly copy them. It is for this very reason, to avoid copycats and establishing “magic,” that I believe that the exact methods which Jesus and the disciples used, are not recorded in detail in the Bible.
The same principle holds true when we turn our church attendance into ritual; or when the church service itself is turned into ritual, making no opportunity for the presence of the Holy Spirit, should He indeed turn up. As a Pastor once told me, “Yes, we have many spirits in our Church, and the Holy Spirit is just one of them.” Sadly, an honest comment and probably true of many churches.
What does this mean? It means for some of the Christians in such a congregation, their Church experience is true and of the Holy Spirit; but for the others, it is simply “doing-Church” and is effectively magic, but in a church setting.
Magic does not require much of us. There is no requirement for moral behaviour – we can act as we wish outside the ‘church’ or ‘prayer’ or ‘bible study’ session. Indeed we can act as we wish during it, for we have a formula to follow, which will bring the results. Certainly there is no requirement for personal intimacy – we just fluff up our own ego while thinking we are doing well, as we listen to our own words bounding back to us.
Having a relationship with God is different. With God in our lives, He will require us to have moral behaviour and will bring us to account when we stray. Sometimes the expectations and responses of God to our disobedience and errors are swift, sometimes slow; but eventually His aim is that all of our body, mind and soul, are brought into alignment with Him, and on His terms alone. If we will but let Him, God will speak to us; He will speak into our deepest parts and change us from the inside, just as much as we can bear. Some of us still require extensive changing to suit His purpose for us and we find it hard; some require less and find it much easier; but no matter what the extent of the changes, or the manner in which these changes occur, they will all be within our ability to both endure and achieve. We just need to be obedient, willing and teachable.
Having a relationship with God means that we allow Him to correct us. To allow that, means we need to hear God and acknowledge that we are in the first place, a sinner. As John 1:8 says:
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
For God, our moral behaviour and our personal intimacy with Him cannot be separated. God expects both, and both on His terms.
But you say so pray and pray and you never hear God! God has given us the answer to that: Hosea 10:12 which says
“Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground. For it is time to seek Jehovah, until He comes and rains righteousness on you.” (emphasis added)
Yes, seek Jehovah; seek God until He comes! This is what Joel is saying here. But look what He says at the beginning of the verse: “Sow to yourselves in righteousness.” This means be righteous! If we are living in sin, we cannot expect to hear God. When we begin to act and live in righteousness, then we begin to sow the seeds of intimacy with Him into our lives which can grow and bear fruit.
We are then told to “break up your fallow ground.” This means to prepare ourselves, prepare those parts of us which have remained dormant and unused for a season (or more). When we do this, God will rain on us the righteousness we need. But in all of this process we also need to remember that we need to “reap in mercy.” What God gives us, it is freely given. He has paid the price and He is a free gift to us. Thus in reaping, in harvesting, we must be full of mercy, bearing in mind what we have freely received, we must also freely give. As we are blessed, we are to bless others.
Hosea 10:12, like all of Bible Scripture was written with a Hebrew mindset – not a Greek mindset. It was written in word pictures and this particular example, like much of Jesus’s teaching’s, is based on good farming management which all the hearers, even town dwellers, would have understood. The more we meditate and research these verses and uncover all the farming and husbandry inferences, the more we will learn about the potential which the Lord is offering us here.
It is very easy for Christians to fall in love with the Bible, to fall in love with their Christian works and duties, to fall in love with the ministry which the Lord has called them into, to fall in love with the principles which the lord has been teaching, and make these the focus of a religious experience of our own making. When we do this, we exclude the very real person of the Lord Jesus Christ from our lives and instead substitute magic. This is not where we need to be!
Let me close with one example of using an incident in the Bible as magic. It will be well understood by all Chinese, who traditionally drape a red cloth over and around the house entrance door at the opening of a new shop or when moving into a house for the first time. It is intended to bring “luck.” Where did this come from? From the night of the Passover of Exodus 12:21-22
“Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel and said to them, Draw out and take a lamb for yourselves according to your families, and kill the passover. And you shall take a bunch of hyssop and dip in the blood in the bowl, and strike the lintel and the doorposts with the blood in the bowl. And none of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For Jehovah will pass through to strike the Egyptians. And when He sees the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, Jehovah will pass over the door, and will not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you. And you shall observe this thing for a law to you and to your sons forever. “
What has happened is that in a time before written history in China, the texts of Exodus 12:21-22 and the whole of the Hebrew scriptures travelled east to China and became part of the very foundations of Chinese culture. This God given instruction to apply blood was to ensure safety from the Angel of Death (or Destroyer Angel) on the night of Passover. Millennia later, even today in the Chinese culture, hanging a red cloth, hanging red lamps etc. at doorways is still prevalent and is seen as a tradition, apart from religion; certainly apart from the original Passover. It is now in essence, simply magic.
All Christians do well to prayerfully consider what aspects of our Church life, of our Prayer life and of our Bible study, of our daily walk with God have been imbued with man-made and self-made traditions. We need to ensure we are focussing on God and his Word and person, not relying on our own magic.
Dear Heavenly Father,
I come before You as a confessed sinner, aware now that I have been guilty at times of making my own form of magic from my ministry work, from my duties, from attendance at your Church services, from my prayer time and from the use of Your Holy Bible in prayer and in my life.
I repent of my actions and my attitudes and ask for Your forgiveness.
If there is anything else in my life which I am doing which is wrong and upsetting to you, please tell me now, so I may confess that sin and repent of it also.
Please speak to me Lord and keep me on that narrow path of Your choosing, so that I can complete the mission which You have for me in this life. Oh Lord, let Your will and only Your will be done in my life henceforth.
In the name of The Lord Jesus Christ I pray.
Amen and Amen and Amen.