Recently, I was reminded of a video I had watched some years ago on the life of Abraham. First shown on one of the cable networks, it was surprisingly faithful to the Bible’s account of Abraham’s life.
The late Richard Harris portrayed Abraham as a man of great sensitivity, with a yearning to know God. Eventually he was successful, for the Bible describes him as God’s friend (Isaiah 41:8). It does not tell us why Abraham sought God, or how he even knew there was a God. Although Abraham’s early ancestors had obviously known of Him, the people of Abraham’s time were not followers of this God. How did Abraham find out about Him?
Genesis 5 is a chronology of the first 10 generations of man. It’s given without explanation or embellishment and covers the period from Adam through Noah. Since the chronology is specific, calculating the life span of each man is simple, as is the total time from Adam’s creation to Noah’s death – 2006 years. Genesis 6 – 9 then shifts gears to describe the Great Flood, which occurred 1656 years after Adam’s creation. Chapter 10 is about the Tower of Babel.
Then in Genesis 11: 9 the chronology abruptly begins again with Noah’s son Shem and continues through Abraham (then called Abram) in Genesis 11:26. Once again we can calculate both the individual life spans and the total elapsed time of 10 generations. By putting the two lists together you come to the amazing discovery that Noah was still alive when Abram was born and died when Abram was 58.
You can also see that if Adam recounted the story of his origin to his son Seth and his grandson son Enosh, (seems likely, since Adam’s origin was pretty unique) then Enosh could have told Noah. In fact 8 out of the first 10 family heads were still alive and well during most of Noah’s life. Only Adam and Seth had died. Since they all lived in the same general vicinity, Mesopotamia, it’s likely they all knew Adam’s story and could have passed it along.
Hello Noah? This is Abraham
Only Noah and his three sons survived the flood, but any of them could have talked with Abram. In fact Noah’s son Shem, still around when Abram’s son Isaac was born, actually out lived Abram. (Some say Shem was the one called Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18-20, the King of Salem to whom Abram paid a tithe on the spoil he had taken while rescuing Lot.)
The notion that the Creation story came from fables told by illiterate primitives around campfires at night just isn’t so. The chain of information from Creation to Abraham needed only 3 links; Adam, Enosh (Adam’s grandson) and Noah. It is no stretch of the imagination to conclude that Abram had heard about the Creator of the Universe through this chain and then sought Him out. You see, in those days there was great interest in the lessons of the past; the wisdom of the ages.
What’s The Point?
Today in almost every field, great emphasis is placed on new thought. Nothing wrong with that per se, but in our quest for the “latest thing” are we losing our grounding in the wisdom of the ages?
Through out history, every society has relied on the wisdom of its elders to instruct the young, guaranteeing that its heritage would remain intact and that simple truths would not be lost. Because for the most part western society no longer venerates its elders and their wisdom, we live in a revisionist world, where even the past is becoming uncertain. (Was Columbus a good guy or a bad guy? Was the Holocaust real? Who was JFK?)
Many of life’s simple truths are no longer passed along, yet they have always been effective in building successful lives. They were first written down for us in the Bible, confirmed in the biographies of successful people, and documented by society’s observers. Here’s an example.
The Greatest Discovery Of Our Generation
That’s how the findings of author James Allen were described when his book “As A Man Thinketh “ was published in 1903. And what was his great discovery? The realization that “we can change our lives by changing our attitudes of mind.”
Ever since the study of human behavior had begun, psychologists had asserted that basic life patterns were not subject to change but were either genetically predisposed or were formed through a process called “environmental conditioning” that took place shortly after birth and, once complete, was irreversible. Allen had discovered that these patterns are not irreversible, but can be altered through conscious volition (choice).
Since then, an abundance of research has supported Allen’s conclusion. In fact it’s now common knowledge that many of the most successful people among us, in every field imaginable, were not only “destined” for failure; but were actually headed that way before achieving great success by making a conscious effort to change their behavior by changing the way they thought. So it appears James Allen was right. Today his book is called a timeless classic, and is still in print after 108 years. But was it really his discovery?
Paul The Behavioral Scientist
In about 60 AD The Apostle Paul wrote these words to the church at Ephesus; “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:22-24) Earlier he had counseled the church at Rome not to conform to the patterns of this world but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds (Romans 12:2). Sound familiar?
So what was called the greatest discovery of our generation 100 years ago was known to Paul almost 1900 years earlier, and he had taught it to the early Church. In fact Paul knew every great truth having to do with what we now call personal growth and development and taught them all in his letters, calling them spiritual weapons with divine power to demolish strongholds (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
Let’s review some of them because they’re especially good for getting us through the difficult times we’re currently experiencing.
The Power of Positive Thinking (Positive Expectancy)
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:4-7).
There’s a related tool here, sometimes called the theory of displacement. The human mind, with all it’s power, has one limitation. At the conscious level it can only focus on one thing at a time. Training our mind to focus on positive thoughts makes it impossible for negative thoughts to distract us. Here’s how Paul described it.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.(Phil 4:8).
Paul said God is working everything together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28) and Jesus promised to meet all our needs if we promise to seek His Kingdom (Matt. 6:31-33). Therefore no matter what happens in life believers have cause to rejoice and give thanks to God. By giving our concerns to Him in prayer we can rise above our circumstances and live in peace in spite of them. To avoid becoming discouraged in times of difficulty we should count our blessings, focus on the positive aspects of our life, and fill our mind with the promises of God. We live by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7)
The Power Of A Personal Goal
Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:13-14).
Our goal is to live each day in a manner pleasing to God, expressing our gratitude for the free gift of salvation, but we often fail to achieve it. Thankfully, God’s mercies are new every morning (Lament. 3:22-23). No matter how badly we stumbled yesterday, a simple prayer of confession wipes the slate clean and it’s like it never happened (1 John 1:9). Every day brings a fresh opportunity to live up to what we’ve already attained (Phil. 3:16) The past is past and we can’t do anything to change it. With God’s help we can forget past failures, focusing on the incredible future that awaits us as our motivation to keep trying.
The Power of Visualization
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor 4:17-18).
This world is temporary and is quickly coming to an end. It’s the next one that matters because it’s the permanent one. Regardless of what happens today, at its end we’ll be one day closer to a guaranteed inheritance that’s beyond human comprehension. A few hours of time and today is gone, but our inheritance is eternal and cannot be taken from us (John 10:27-30). We should stop worrying so much about this life, start thinking more about how great the next one will be, and visualize ourselves there. The Holy Spirit will help us.
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit (1 Cor. 2:8-10).
The Power of Affirmation or Self Talk
I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Phil 4:12-13)
Blessed are we who’ve been given everything for we don’t have to worry about anything. Affirmations like this adaptation of the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12) have been described as statements made in times of doubt that would otherwise be true. Bible verses make the best affirmations because we know they’re not just wishful thinking, they’re the promises of God. Paul knew that no matter what his earthly situation was, the Lord had given him the strength to endure and therefore he could always be content. Repeating Phil. 4:13 when we’re discouraged reminds us that promise is for us too.
When it came to behavioral psychology, Paul was greater than Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, B.F. Skinner, Abraham Maslow and all the others combined. When it came to motivational writing he topped Norman Vincent Peale, Robert Shuller, Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, and anyone else you can name. No wonder he started so many churches. No wonder he was so thoroughly despised by his enemies.
Why The Big Secret?
Today, these Biblical principles have been hijacked by secular humanists and even proponents of other “religions,” who deceitfully claim them as their own. They remove God from the equation, promoting the supremacy of the human spirit or the achievement of some kind of personal godhood instead. They often derive great fame and fortune from sharing their “secrets”, omitting any mention of their actual origin.
Out of Biblical ignorance, the Church largely ignores or even fears these truths. And yet, even with God out of the picture they’ve have helped bring great success to countless followers. How much more powerful would they be if we used them for the purpose God intended? How many defeated lives would be changed? How many oppressed and enslaved believers would be set free?
Whose Idea Was This Anyway?
But where did Paul get his knowledge; his understanding of motivational leadership? Listen to his own words: “I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:12).
Earlier Jesus had said, I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). Then He gave Paul the tools we need to make His claim a reality.
Clearly, the Lord intended for us to use these truths to escape the prison built for our mind by the experiences of our life. It’s with good reason the Bible is called the Owner’s Manual for the Human Race. This is truly the Wisdom of the Ages.