Thursday, November 12, 2020

How to succeed at everything!

The book of Psalms in the Bible opens with a description of a person who carefully follows certain principles, and it claims: “. . . everything he does will succeed. . .” (Psalm 1:3)

Everything? How is that possible?

Many people who study the Bible have a favorite scripture. I never really had a favorite scripture. But recently, I re-examined a verse that I learned decades ago:

“I am Jehovah your god, who instructs you for your benefit.” (Isaiah 48:17)

I have to (sheepishly) admit that until recently I’d never really grasped how vastly important those words are.

It is even more embarrassing because – for literally decades – when I’ve encountered people who claim the Bible is ‘just a book written by men’, my argument has gone like this:

First, I’d read 2 Timothy 3:16. “All scripture is inspired by God and beneficial.” Then I’d explain, ‘That’s an easy claim to make and a hard claim to prove. Perhaps you remember, back in the 80s, a TV preacher named Oral Roberts who claimed that ‘God spoke to him’ – inspiration – and then promptly demanded $8 million. Paul knew that there were then and would be now, fake claims of inspiration. So he gave us the key: the benefit proves the inspiration.’

Then I’d say, ‘Perhaps you know Acts 20:35, “There’s more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” When you look at how some of your neighbors are living, don’t they seem to be following the principle that there’s more happiness in getting? “When I get that car, that boat, that house, that girl, then I’ll be happy.” Do they ever, truly, get happy? They could go through their entire life and never, on their own, come up with the principle that there’s more happiness in giving, because that’s not human nature. It’s not human thinking. But if you’ve tried it, if they were to try it, they would discover what? It’s true: we get more happiness from giving. It is higher than human thinking; it is wisdom that had to come from God. The benefit proves the inspiration.’

In my life I’ve probably had that conversation with more than a hundred people. In a couple dozen cases, I’ve gotten people to seriously ponder the value of the Bible because of it.

Yet, until just the past few weeks I never made the connection to Isaiah 48:17.

Jehovah said that everything He teaches us is for our benefit.

Let’s look at an example.

When I was a kid and I read scriptures such as, ‘You must not bow down to images, for I Jehovah am a jealous God...’ I’ll be honest: my reaction was, Why? I don’t mean, why not worship idols; But why should God be jealous? He’s God. The idols are nothing.

God doesn’t benefit from that rule. He is perfectly self-contained, confident in His being the sovereign. He gave that rule to benefit us, to keep us from being misled by pagan priests claiming this or that thing is a god (‘and Oh, by the way, the gods want you to give me your money...’) That’s the first benefit. The second is, God is loyal to those who are loyal to Him (2 Samuel 22:26), and He made you to be loyal to him. It is in your nature to be in an exclusive relationship with Him. How is that a benefit to you?

Here’s an appropriately modern comparison: Tesla cars are connected to the Tesla factory. They get regular software updates, they can quick-charge at the supercharging stations. Now, you can go to a junkyard and buy a Tesla that’s been written off by the factory. You might be able to fix it and get it running again. But once it's considered totaled by Tesla, it will never reconnect to Tesla's net. It will never go as far or as fast as a connected car. And it will get worse over time, while connected Teslas will get software updates and, theoretically at least, keep getting better.

Jehovah made Adam as part of His family, with the ability to communicate with Him. Adam and God were in nearly constant communication. Imagine his first day: ‘That pain you’re feeling in your middle is called hunger. Pick some of those berries and eat them and the pain will go away. You can’t walk on the shiny stuff. It’s called water - you’ll sink. Let me show you how to swim. You’re going to get sleepy when the sun goes down. Let’s fix you a bed...’

At some point Adam noticed that animals died. He must have worried: Was he going to die someday, also? He would have asked God. God made it clear that, yes indeed, that was a possible outcome. But God didn't want him to die. Unlike the animals, God had something special in mind for humans; He had made them “in his image.” He wanted them to be part of His family. Adam could avoid dying by remaining in his relationship with Jehovah.

The rule, ‘If you eat from this one tree you will die’, that didn’t benefit God. It wasn’t some nasty trick God played on humans; it wasn’t that God needed to test Adam’s loyalty.

Isaiah 48:17 is a universal truth. The instruction not to eat from the tree had to have a benefit for Adam, and it did.

None of the animals were in God’s image; none was offered an exception to the universal law of entropy. But God did offer an exception to Adam. He wanted Adam to stick around. Job 14:14,15 tells us that God misses loyal ones who have died. If Adam had remained in his special relationship with God but had gradually grown old and died like an animal, God would have missed him.

So God told Adam: You can avoid death if you just keep doing what you’re doing. Stay connected to me. Listen to me, ask me questions, talk to me, check with me about anything you aren’t sure about. I’ll be happy to answer.

The instructions to Adam and Eve were to spread the garden, over time, until it covered the whole earth. (Genesis 1:28) In the course of that work, as they stretched the boundaries outside the original garden, they would have encountered obstacles that were potentially life-threatening – not just poisonous plants and insects but cliffs, raging rivers, falling tree limbs, and more. So it would benefit them to make it a habit to look to  God for instructions. It would be to their detriment if they developed the habit, so common in the world today, of just doing whatever they felt like doing.  

Perhaps Adam and Eve would have taken their kids to the tree and explained to them how God had used it as an object lesson to teach them the benefit of following His instructions. Maybe successive generations would have done so for hundreds of years until the tree eventually died, by which time mankind would have overcome so many problems and obstacles with their heavenly father's help there would have been no further need for the object lesson.

God’s instructions are always for our benefit. Everything we do can succeed.

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Bill K. Underwood is a columnist and author several books, all available at You can help support this site by purchasing a book.