What the Wise Men Teach Us About Following God

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Years ago, when I was a child, I took a trip with my family each summer to visit my grandmother. Her house was located two states away, so we had to drive for a few days to get to her house. I grew up in the 80s before Internet, email, and GPS. Therefore, we used a paper map to navigate the route.

I laugh when I think of the memory. Now, when I need to find my way to a particular place, I pull out my iphone and type in the destination. Two years ago, when we moved to a new community, I found my way around quite easily because I had the automated voice on my phone’s GPS to tell me the way.

In my spiritual life, I have often wished that God’s voice was always as crystal clear as the guide on my GPS. At times, I have faced a decision and wished it was more obvious what God would have me do or would say to me in that situation. Although the Bible says that He guides those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ (Psalm 32:8,9; John 10:3-4; John 16:13), hearing from God and discerning His will isn’t always so easy. It takes time to develop the ability to recognize His voice and know which way to go.

One story we can look to for guidance in this area is the story of the wise men in Matthew 2:1-12 (ESV). A few lessons we can learn about following Jesus:

1. It doesn’t matter who you are.

What we should note in the passage is the wise men were magicians. They weren’t part of Israel’s elite or Jewish rabbi. They were Gentiles “from the east” (v. 2). And yet, they saw God’s star and followed it to Jesus.

If we have never accepted Jesus as our Savior, we may disqualify ourselves from coming to Him based on our background or the choices we have made in our past, but we must remember that God doesn’t disqualify us from coming to Him based on what we’ve done. He wants all to come and seek Him. John 6:37 says, “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”

Similarly, as believers, we may think that we can’t hear from Him in our Christian walk like other believers. However, we can approach Him not because of our merit but because of His work on the cross (Romans 3:23; Ephesians 2:8,9; Titus 3:5). We may not feel good enough for Jesus, but we must remember that even the most religious looking person — the person with spotless clothes and an even more spotless past — is not good enough to stand on his own righteousness in front of Jesus. In fact, our own unbelief that He will speak to us can be an obstacle that hinders us hearing from Him (James 1:5, 6).

Certainly, there are certain behaviors He will ask us to let go of as we walk with Him; however, he will help us in that endeavor. When we mess up, we can come to Him, confessing our sins knowing that He cleanses us (1 John 1:9). As 2 Timothy 1:9 says, “He has saved us and called us to a holy life — not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.”

2. The way Jesus leads is often treacherous.

Often, the assignments of Jesus are difficult and those we would rather not do. They may cost us our social standing with a group. They may cost us our job. They may cost us our pride because we have to humble ourselves and take a lower position than we would want for ourselves. They may cost us delays and alterations in our own plans. But all the assignments of Jesus are perfect and lead to goodness in our lives and the lives of others (Psalm 18:30, NLT). But we have to be willing to follow where He leads.

The wise men had planned their own way back to their home, but their plans were interrupted. Instead, they had to go back a different route they had not intended, as they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod. While Jesus’ directives may appear arduous at times, His “burden” is described as “light” in the Bible. Matthew 11:28-30 says:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

I once had a discussion with God about this passage. In the midst of a season where He put particularly challenging tasks in my own path, I told Him I didn’t think His burdens were light and easy at all. In fact, I told Him His way was hard and His burdens heavy. It was only a moment after I had made this accusation of God where a revelation washed over me that our burdens are not light because we never have to do hard things — the hard things we do in obedience are what make our burden light.

Conversely, when we go our own way, however easier it may be in the moment, is when we collect heavy burdens that we do not have with Jesus (Psalm 84:10). As Thomas á Kempis is quoted as saying in this Transformation Garden devotional:

What can the world offer you without Jesus? To be without Jesus is a hell most grievous, to know Jesus the sweetness of heaven. If Jesus is with you, no enemy can harm you. Whoever finds Jesus, finds a rich treasure, and a good above every good. He who loses Jesus loses much indeed, and more than the whole world. Poorest of all is he who lives without Jesus, and richest of all is he, who stands in favor of Jesus.

3. God maps the course.

What we notice in the story is that the wise men weren’t responsible for the course, they were just responsible for following. If we commit our way to Him and continually seek His counsel, He will show us what path we should take. As Matthew Henry says, “There arises a day star in the hearts of those who seek Him.” Isaiah 30:21 says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ “ (See my previous post on this topic.)

How does God communicate to us which way to go? In a variety of ways — through dreams and visions, directly speaking to us, through others, etc. We hear from God by spending time in His Word every day, praying to Him, and learning about Him in a corporate worship setting with other believers.

Often, when God gives us a specific word for our lives, He will confirm it by giving us the same word in different ways more than once. For instance, 2 Corinthians 13:1(NKJV) tells us, “By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.” In that passage, the word “word” in Greek is “rhema.” According to Helps Word Studies,Rhema is a spoken word, made by ‘the living voice’ (J. Thayer). Rhema is commonly used in the NT for the Lord speaking His dynamic, living word in a believer to inbirth faith.”

When we listen to a sermon, read a passage, or talk to a friend, and their words deeply penetrate us and we know that word is for us from the Lord, that is a “rhema” word. If we see the same message more than once, we know God is speaking to us. We need only watch for His answer to us and look for what He will say (Habbakuk 2:1).

On thing we must note, however, is that God’s instructions to us will never violate what He says in the Bible. We must be careful to not attribute every passing thought to God and be in His Word so we know the difference.

4. Those who trust His way get to where they need to go.

The wise men followed His star and found Him. In contrast, there were those who did not find him on that night because they weren’t looking. In fact, the wise men had to knock on doors and inquire about the Son of God because no one else was apparently all that interested. Similarly, when Jesus was born, there was no room for Him in the inn (Luke 2:7).

God has given us all promises of what He will do in our lives. Often the path to those promises is confusing and twisted and difficult. It doesn’t tell us how long wise men traveled to get to Jesus, but it was months and possibly more than that — before they found Christ. Surely, in that time they questioned the route, got discouraged, wanted to give up — but they didn’t give up and got to where they were going.

Similarly, in Mark 6:45-53, the disciples encountered a storm when Jesus sent them on a lake to row over to the other side. But though they were met with trials, they still got to where they were going because Jesus was the One who had sent them in the boat across the lake.

If we want the kind of life that is possible only with Jesus — a life where we live out our God given-purpose, we have to let Him have His way and lead us where He wants. We can chart our own path, sure, but we cannot generate the results that come from walking with Jesus. When we try to take matters into our own hands, we won’t get to where we are going. As Charles Stanley notes in The Blessings of Brokenness, “Do your part, and God will do the part only He can do!”

Conclusion:

Learning to hear from God and follow His will for our lives is a process that takes time to learn, but when we put ourselves in a position to hear from Him, He will speak to us. No matter if we like the way He leads, it is in following Him that we encounter blessings that we would not apart from Him.

As J.R. Miller is quoted as saying in Streams in the Desert:

Every difficult task that comes across you path — every one that you would rather not do, that will take the most effort, cause the most pain, and be the greatest struggle — brings a blessing with it. And refusing to do it regardless of the personal cost is to miss the blessing.

Every difficult stretch of road on which you see the Master’s footprints along which He calls you to follow Him leads unquestionably to blessings. And they are blessings you will never receive unless you travel the steep and thorny path.

*Updated December 16, 2017.

Related Resources:

Want to listen to co-hosts Carol Whitaker and Suzy Lolley talk through and explain the points in more of our latest posts? Subscribe on Soundcloud and receive all of our latest episodes!

To read the poem by T.S. Eliot I mention in the podcast, click on this link: “Journey of the Magi.”

Interested in salvation but want to read more? Check out our Know God page or contact us through the Contact page.

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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3 Lessons the Wise Men Can Teach Us After the Christmas Season Is Over

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” — Matthew 2:9-10

Last week, I posted an article on the wise men and announced via Facebook that I would not be publishing any more this week on my blog as I was exhausted from all of the demands of trying to make Christmas happen.

And then when a family member got sick, and I found out on the morning of Christmas Eve that I would need to step in and host Christmas day at my house, I figured that writing was out of the question — for several more days.

I would be lying in a coma somewhere in my house with my children running around unsupervised, and I would need at least a week to get functional enough to write.

I certainly would not be penning any holiday-themed posts again until next year. Or so I thought. As I expressed to God in my quiet time, I was just. so. tired.

Falling into bed after midnight for the third night in a row feeling too worn out to string a coherent sentence together let alone a blog post, I woke up a few hours later refreshed with a list of thoughts in my head. A list of thoughts in my head about the wise men.

Turns out, I wasn’t quite done writing about them.

I was given a few more observations about the magi’s story that are pertinent for any time of the year that I would like to share before we move past the holiday season.

1. He speaks our language.

As Matthew Henry notes in his commentary, God spoke to the wise men in a language that they could understand. They were most likely astrologers and sorcerers, well-versed in studying the heavens and reading signs. God lead them to his Son by announcing His birth with a star. He revealed Himself to them in a way that they could understand.

God does that with us, too. He promises to be found by those who seek Him, and He speaks your language. He knows what exact questions and doubts you have, gifts, struggles, conflicts — He fashioned your very brain. He knows what will draw you to Him.

My pastor once gave an example of when he plays hide-and-seek with his children. He knows how to hide in difficult places, but because his kids are small and give up easily if he doesn’t give them hints as to his hiding places, He lets them find Him.

With God, it is the same way. He doesn’t remain hidden if we look for Him. I am a words person. I never really thought about it before, but that is how God primarily communicates to me. Through words.

I sometimes get around people and have a specific word flash into my mind. I get ideas for posts throughout the day or at night, and it will just be a download of thoughts. Oftentimes, a stream of words will come to me after watching a movie or reading a book. And I know it’s from Him.

Others have different ways of experiencing God. Some get pictures in their mind, or feel Him best when they are running or out in nature.

There are a thousand ways God pours out Himself so we can find Him. It is because of His great love for us that He does it in a way that will communicate to us personally.

2. He chooses unlikely candidates.

As I mentioned in a previous post about a widow and the prophet Elijah, God chooses unlikely candidates. The wise men were astrologers from a far away Arabian land. There were several more pious men closer to the birth place of Jesus that God could have chosen, but God instead selected these particular magi.

In fact, the rather embarrassing reality is that these magicians were searching for Jesus when the Jews weren’t even looking for Him. The Jews knew of the prophecies and the predictions, and yet it was these magi that God used to follow His star to His Son.

God chose not only the wise men, but some unlikely subjects in the shepherds (Luke 2:15), and Simeon and Ann (Luke 2:38) to come and celebrate his son’s birth. The fact that He selected persons from all ranks and walks of life makes one message abundantly clear: The gospel is for everyone. The gospel isn’t just for church people — it wasn’t just for Jews, His chosen people. It was for common shepherds, sorcerers — everyone.

Although Christ is exclusive in the sense that He offers a narrow path of salvation — Himself — He extends this offer to all.

Again, we see through his placing of the star for the wise men to find, a Creator who greatly loves His creation. Not only does He let us find Him when we are looking, He initiates the search by coming to pursue each one of us.

3. The star isn’t just for the Christmas story.

I used to think that the star was just a unique feature of the Christmas story — something God deposited in His narrative to make the backdrop of his Son’s birth more beautiful; however, one thing I mentioned in my previous post and I feel is worth mentioning again is that the star didn’t just guide those men on their journey. As Henry notes, the “day-star arises in the hearts” of all who seek Him.

I used to worry and sometimes do still worry that I will miss God’s will for me, but the truth is that if I am abiding in Him and walking with Him, I will know the way to go. Just like the star guided the wise men to Jesus’ home, by making Jesus at home in my heart and seeking out His guidance on a daily basis, He illuminates the way for me.

He shows me the path I should take by surrounding me with resources that answer my questions; by speaking directly to me during my quiet time through Scripture; by speaking through pastors and other mature Christian friends through sermons and conversations; by filling my mind with dreams that warn me of future events — these are all ways God leads me like a kind shepherd. As Isaiah 30:21 says:

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ “

Since launching a blog, I have experienced a whole lot of pressure. I have readers looking to me for new content every week and these questions fill my mind at times: What am I going to write about? How will I know what to say?

Without fail, when I spend time with Him — my mind floods with inspiration related to the Bible passage or devotional I just read, or the lesson He is currently teaching me. My biggest problem is not having something to say but being diligent about writing down the thoughts when they come.

When I get lazy and don’t record them — I have to ask God for them again because I can’t remember what He told me.

Interestingly enough, the wise men’s star stopped once the wise men reached Herod — and they didn’t get discouraged but instead took it upon themselves to inquire about the child. And once they did, the star rose again for them.

As Henry notes, if we are doing what we have in our power to do — God graciously shows us the next step and makes his star reappear when we need it (Matthew 2:9).

The wise men observed the star with great joy when it showed up again (Matt. 2:10), and so it is with us on our journey with God when we are seeking answers, and He reveals what we have been seeking so we can take the next leg of the journey.

Just like He was faithful about guiding the wise men to Christ, He is faithful about guiding me.

A few days ago, I was flat-lined from holiday preparations. It wasn’t until God wakened me from my sleep to re-energize me and whisper His thoughts that a blog post began to take shape.

Just like the wise men were happy when the star that had disappeared showed back up in the sky, I got pretty excited when God gave me fresh illumination and direction for a piece I was too weary to write.

When I look for Him — He will show me the way.

As Jeremiah 29:13 says, “Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all of your heart.”

Related Bible Verses:

James 1:5: “If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask Him, and He will gladly tell you.”

Proverbs 8:17: “I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.”

Deuteronomy 4:29: “But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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The Wise Men Dilemma: When the Journey Is Hard

THe Wise Men Dilemma_ When The journey is Hard

Some of the characters I always liked in the Christmas story were the wise men.

They looked so noble and serene, calmly bearing their gifts, laying them gently before Jesus.

But for the longest time, I viewed them as just miniatures in a manger scene. It wasn’t until I read T.S. Eliot’s “The Journey of the Magi”  in college that I began to see the wise men as more than smiling, crowned figurines kneeling before Jesus.

Although their biblical account doesn’t give many details, through some careful study of not only Eliot’s poem but Matthew 2:1 and some illumination from the Holy Spirit, I have come to see the wise men as not just nativity characters but men with a choice — a choice to go “another route” (Matthew 2:12).

Several things about their story stand out to me now.

1. It takes a journey to get to Jesus.

Jesus promises that those who seek Him will find Him (Matthew 7:7,8) — but getting to know Jesus takes a journey of faith, bumps and valleys, questions, doubts — and getting further and further away from the life you used to have.

The assumption is that when you get saved and believe in Jesus that all the work is done. You hear that all the time. Jesus has done it all. And that is true in regards to your salvation, but in regards to sanctification, the working out of your salvation (Philippians 2:12), the process is ongoing.

It takes effort to discover Jesus and really find Him on a daily basis. You have to put in the energy to look for Him, discern His will for you and walk that out in obedience.

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The wise men certainly had to put in some work: they travelled, endured the fatigue of being on the road for endless days, inquired of Jesus’ location and followed a lone star up in the sky — all at great personal cost to themselves.

2. Once you encounter Jesus, you can’t go back the way you came.

Once the wise men found Jesus, they couldn’t travel the same worn paths they knew. They had to take a higher, steeper trail home. And the people around them didn’t treat them the same when they found out the identity of the king they were seeking. Herod wanted them killed. As overjoyed as they were to find Jesus, their encounter with Him actually made their way more treacherous.

I was reminded of this when I heard a sermon on the wise men given last Christmas season by our senior pastor. At the time, I was struggling in my own walk of faith.

God had been leading me on a journey of understanding that my issues with self-worth had me looking to the people around me for approval. So much so, that I had relied on the approval of others to an unhealthy extent, particularly my classes when I was teaching. Some previous rejection made me afraid that I wasn’t really worth it. I constantly relied on the people around me to make me feel good about myself.

Particularly, as a young instructor, I had a male fan club in many of my classes. While I never entered into a relationship with a student or anything of that nature, I know that God distinctly told me that I had set the wrong example. I had encouraged that approval.

He didn’t want me to get my self-worth from the wrong kinds of attention any longer. He wanted me to get it from Him. And He wanted me to go back and tell my teaching community and the families of my students the ways I was changing. He wanted me to apologize for not being the professional role model I thought I was and share my story of learning to find my identity in Him.

3. The journey is solitary.

The wise men followed the star where no one was looking. According to Matthew Henry’s commentary, they arrived in Jerusalem expecting the whole world to be worshipping at Jesus’ feet and instead had to go door-to-door to inquire around quite a bit to even find Him.

As Henry notes, “There arises a day-star in the hearts of those who enquire after Christ” — but it may be a very solitary quest. The star may lead to a place where no one else is going.

When I got the nudge to begin calling families, I had no blue print for what I was doing. No one else I knew had ever undergone a project like that. I had no idea why I was doing it or what the purpose was other than I felt very strongly that God wanted me to go. I didn’t really get many answers until I just started making phone calls and writing emails. I felt that because it was such an individual road that there must be something wrong.

Maybe I didn’t hear God right.

But like the wise men, I kept getting in my heart a leading, a star to follow.

I didn’t know how people would react or if they would misinterpret what I said. I knew that I would be looked at differently, my reputation jeopardized. It involved a death on my part. A surrender of my will. I was nothing short of shocked that Jesus would make me go back and do this.

And that wasn’t the only hard part in my story. I had to go back to some people from my way back past. I had gotten tangled up in some unhealthy relationships as a teenager with not only guys, but girls. Again, looking for that sense of acceptance, I had gone down a path that I never thought I would. He wanted me to go back to those people too and tell them how Jesus was transforming me, admit that I had been wrong.

I resisted at first and many times in the process thinking that the Jesus I knew would never lead me to do something so uncomfortable. I wanted to go into ministry but not if it involved such difficult actions. Not if it involved revealing the truth behind the glossy front I had created and my attempts at looking strong: Not if it meant revealing that I was actually weak and very flawed.

A young rich man in the Bible experienced this same kind of stunned surprise when He encountered Jesus. Approaching Jesus in earnestness one day, he inquired what he could do to earn eternal life. The young man observed the commandments, met all the requirements as far as outward acts of piety. However, Jesus looked at him and detected one thing preventing him from following Him in an abandoned way: his wealth. Jesus told him to sell everything and follow him.

And the young man walked away saddened because he didn’t expect Jesus to ask for that.

The wise men must have had similar qualms when they journeyed all the way to Jesus only to discover that they would have to change their route, and the hard part of their journey wasn’t over when they found Him. In “Journey of the Magi,” Eliot voices the questions the wise men might have had encountering Jesus:

… were we lead all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth

certainly

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen

birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this

Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death,

our death.

Although Eliot’s poem takes some artistic license, we can imagine that for the wise men Jesus’ birth presented a paradox they didn’t expect — calling for a “death” of old practices and routines. The wise men were most likely astrologers, magicians. Surely, Jesus shook up their belief systems a little and made it impossible for them to cling onto their familiar ways of doing things.

The stanza later laments that returning home was hard as they could “no longer be at ease, in their old dispensation.”

The wise men dilemma is this: When you truly encounter Jesus, you have to change. And He may be different than you ever thought.

For the rich young man, he went away downcast because he was willing to observe outward forms of religion but unwilling to give what He held closest to His heart.

Jesus was kind to the man. It even says in the passage that Jesus “loved the man” (Mark 10:21), but what is interesting is that Jesus did not manipulate or coerce the man into leaving his possessions and following him. When the man left, Jesus turned and made a comment to his disciples about the difficulty of getting into heaven. He knew that there would be some that would turn away.

The wise men, on the other hand, heeded the warning in a dream. Instead of going back the familiar paths in which they had come, they travelled home “another route.” They understood the necessity of altering their plans upon meeting Christ.

As J.R. Miller observes in Streams in the Desert (a beloved devotional that has inspired me the past few years):

Every difficult task that comes across your path — every one that you would rather not do, that will take the most effort, cause the most pain, and be the greatest struggle — brings a blessing with it. And refusing to do it regardless of the personal cost is to miss the blessing.

Every difficult stretch of road on which you see the Master’s footprints and along which He calls you to follow Him leads unquestionably to blessings. And they are blessings you will never receive unless you travel the steep and thorny path.

Jesus will never make you follow Him. He will open the possibility, beckon you His way, but it will always be your choice whether you tread after His solitary star and give up whatever it is He is asking of you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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