Our Caring and Able Father
Everyone faces challenges in life. Whether our struggles are financial, vocational, relational, or physical, we can be certain that nobody is exempt. Fortunately, we serve a God who is both interested in our problems and able to take care of them.
When trouble looms, prayer is always a good first step to take. But having a foundation upon which to build our prayers also makes a difference. Jehoshaphat, the King of Judah, faced an enormous challenge. Three different tribes–the Moabites,Amonites, and Meunites–simultaneously waged war against him. Most leaders would have crumbled under such pressure, or at the very least taken drastic measures, but Jehoshaphat was a wise king. Though afraid, he did not strike out against his enemies.Instead, knowing that God was interested in his dilemma, he “turned his attention to seek the Lord” and proclaimed a fast throughout the land (2 Chron. 20:1-3).
Jehoshaphat also knew that God, who was greater than any earthly problem, had done miraculous things for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and Daniel. That same God would help him, too, in his hour of need. We should never underestimate the Lord’s interest in our affairs. He helped our ancestors in the Bible, and He can and will help His children today.
It’s easy to think our problems are unimportant in the eyes of God, but He doesn’t feel that way at all. Whatever concerns us concerns Him. If we, like Jehoshaphat, turn right to God and proclaim His power, He will intervene. And no matter how great our challenges are, God is greater.
Strength in Waiting
God has a purpose and plan for your life, and His timing is perfect. Sometimes He answers our prayers with “yes” or “no.” But at other times, He says “not now”–when that is the case, we can avail ourselves of the rich rewards that come when we wait.
One very practical blessing is that God strengthens us as we lean on Him during delays. Isaiah 40:31 tells us that “those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength.” We are given the metaphor of an eagle with wind beneath his wings. It is interesting to note that the words “wind” and “spirit” come from the same Greek word–pneuma. The spirit of God lifts us up, and His energy and strength sustain us as we abide in Him.
When we are facing a difficult decision, the real key is learning to wait. There is no verse of Scripture that tells us to take control and fight our own battles. God is the one who fights them on our behalf (2 Chron. 20:15). We are to be patient and trust in Him.
When David faced his greatest battles, he waited upon the Lord. God delivered him from destruction and set his feet on solid ground. (Ps. 40:1-3) He will do the same for you. When you abide in Him, He gives supernatural energy to accomplish the things He requires of you–His Spirit does for you what you cannot do for yourself.
In reading through the Scriptures, we see that every time one of God’s saints gains a victory, he or she is waiting and trusting in the Lord. You can likewise experience triumph in your life. When you have the omnipotent Creator of the universe acting on your behalf, you can’t lose.
The Reason We Serve
In His Word, God commands us to serve one another. However, there will inevitably be difficult people in life who make this mandate challenging.
Thankfully, a biblical definition of service can help us obey the Lord’s instruction, no matter who the recipient may be. And the reason is that God is actually the One whom we serve.
When we have this motivation underlying everything we do, it will impact the quality of our work and keep us from becoming discouraged. Then, whatever our task–whether we lead a country, teach children, or do something that seems unattractive–if our goal is to glorify God, we will do our best in His strength. And we trust Him to use us for His purposes, even if our labor should appear fruitless to us or to others.
When I was a child, I had to wake up before daylight to deliver newspapers. Even in rain or snow, I still had to complete the job. This was hard for me to do. Then the Lord impressed upon my heart that I was not merely bringing papers to people in my town; I was serving Jesus. As I understood this truth more, waking up and working was purposeful and doable. Truthfully, I still did not always feel like facing the work, but feelings were no longer relevant. I was serving my Maker.
Whomever God calls us to serve, and whatever He tells us to do, we can obey with joyful hearts when it’s done for Jesus. If this is our motivation, we won’t need worldly approval or evidence of impact. We need to know only that God is pleased and promises to reward those who serve Him (Heb. 11:6)
Requirements of Waiting
Waiting for God’s timing is neither passive nor idle–it takes discipline and commitment. I can think of four basic requirements for successful waiting.
Faith. The Lord’s ways and timing are nothing like ours (Isa. 55:8-9). From a human standpoint, He usually does things in a totally different way than we expect. But as we trust Him more, we’ll discover that His approach isn’t so strange after all. And when we live in harmony with God’s will, His timing starts to make sense.
Humility. To wait for the Lord, you must be convinced of your need for Him. Submission to His divine will requires humility–you cannot charge ahead with your own plans and at the same time be fully surrendered to God.
Patience. Are you willing to remain in your current position until you receive clear divine direction? Pausing for clarity from God does not mean that you disengage and allow circumstances to fall apart around you. Waiting upon the Lord is a deliberate decision that requires patience.
Courage. Waiting for God often takes courage, especially when there is pressure to act. If you’re not careful, you might stop listening to the Lord and follow other advice. So keep your ear attuned to the voice of Almighty God, and you won t go wrong.
Waiting upon the Lord is one of the wisest, most important decisions we make in life. And contrary to popular assumptions, it is an active endeavor that requires faith, humility, patience, and courage. When you rely upon God and wait for His timing, the various facets of life fall into place.
Choosing the Right Building Material
Believers build their lives on the Rock of Ages: Jesus Christ. Every motive, every deed, and every word is material for our spiritual house. The apostle Paul warned followers to construct with care because on the day of judgment, fire will test the quality of each person’s work. This refers not to a literal fire but to the purifying presence of Jesus Christ.
When I stand in the Savior’s perfectly holy and just presence, all the wood, hay, and stubble in my life will disappear. Good things done with wrong motives will vanish along with secret sins and bad attitudes. Only what has been done and said in Jesus’ name remains. And the moment the chaff is gone, we will see that God is right—those things didn’t fit the life of His child.
On hearing this explanation, someone usually says, “All that matters is that I get into heaven.” But that attitude is shortsighted because the judgment of believers is about rewards. In the parable of the unrighteous steward, Jesus explained the basic concept to His disciples: “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10). Our time on earth is the beginning of an eternity serving and rejoicing in the Lord. God will reward us with heavenly responsibility according to our faithfulness here.
Wise people plan for the future (Prov. 27:12).I want to receive as much of God’s goodness as He offers, so I am determined to build with top-quality, enduring materials. The privilege of serving is only the beginning of the rewards. In heaven, God’s generosity will be even more abundantly unleashed.
Responding to Disappointment
To find examples of wise, godly reactions to disappointment, you’re more likely to turn to Psalms than to Matthew. But the very first chapter in the New Testament tells the story of an upright man’s reaction to painful and disheartening news.
Joseph—Jesus’ earthly father—was a righteous person. A godly man wants a wife who shares his desire to honor and obey the Lord, and Scripture indicates that Mary was exactly that sort of woman (Luke 1: 45-55). So imagine how stunned Joseph must have been when Mary returned from a long visit with her relative Elizabeth and told him that she was pregnant. Moreover, she was claiming no man had touched her.
Any way Joseph looked at the situation, it appeared grim. And yet Matthew 1:20 says that he “considered”—in other words, he sought a wise, righteous response. God entered Joseph’s life in a dramatic way to confirm Mary’s story and put a stop to his “quiet annulment” plans.
The Lord turned Joseph’s mourning into joy. Mary had told the truth—strange and startling as it was. The couple would bear the intense public censure of an early pregnancy, but Joseph stopped thinking about what others would say. God had blessed work for him: to raise the Messiah alongside a faithful woman.
Followers of Christ should seek a godly response to disappointments they face. Since the Lord always has a plan, the wisest reaction is to anticipate the good He can do and await His timing. God certainly blessed Joseph for his willingness to “seek first His kingdom” (Matt. 6:33).
A Servant’s Rewards
In His grace, God freely gives salvation to those who believe in Jesus. We cannot earn this gift, nor do we deserve it. Our Father does notice our good works, though. And He promises to reward us according to what we have done for Him.
True service occurs when we allow the Lord to work through us for His glory and honor. True ministry occurs when divine resources meet human need through loving channels.
Revelation 22:12 encourages us, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.” Whether large or small, all service done in Jesus’ name will be blessed. We must be careful, though, that our actions are for Christ’s glory. If motives are self-serving, the only benefit we receive is the praise (if any) that we hear from people in this life. And we know that men’s approval is not satisfying or lasting.
While some rewards will be given in heaven, other blessings can be experienced now. For example, we know great joy when we allow God to bless others through us. And there is deep satisfaction in realizing that we are pleasing Christ. In addition,there’s a profound sense of fulfillment when we lead a person to Jesus and teach him how to walk by faith.
Serving others is both a great benefit and a responsibility for Christians. We should prayerfully consider our motives to make sure that our goal is to glorify Christ. Only then will we receive God’s full blessings–rewards given not only in eternity but on earth as well.
Our Gifts for His Kingdom
Many people hear the word “serve” and feel that they do not have the necessary qualities to make a difference in others’ lives. This is true–apart from God. But He has gifted each of us in unique ways with a purpose in mind. His plan for us involves using these talents to serve Him for the good of others.
Satan would like us to believe otherwise. Our Enemy wants us to notice what others are doing and then to feel inferior. For instance, I have heard women say, “I am just a homemaker.” They see people preaching and singing in the choir and wish they could accomplish something so great for God. Friends, there could be nothing further from the truth. An enormous responsibility rests with those who train their children in righteousness.
In fact, the Holy Spirit has gifted each believer for specific work in God’s kingdom. Scripture explains this idea by a comparison with a human body: each person has gifts and purposes that make the entire system function well. But if the heel wants the eye’s role, the whole being will lose balance.
Each part is crucial, even though some are less noticeable than others. Truthfully, those with less apparent talents have an advantage because pride and self-sufficiency may be less of a temptation.
Notice how Peter defined himself: “a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:1). He was no longer a man motivated by self-interest. Once He followed Jesus, he saw himself as a servant of God. We, too, are called to serve the King of Kings with whatever abilities we are given.
The Call to Serve
Jesus commanded that we serve one another, but obeying this mandate in humility is not natural for us. Sure, there are times we like to help others. But service that involves self-sacrifice–especially for someone we deem undeserving–much more difficult to do.
What does it mean to serve? Consider Christ’s example. He gave up everything in heaven to live among us, subjecting Himself to dishonor and human frailty. And He loved even those who rejected Him. Think about how He humbled Himself and washedthe disciples’ feet at Passover. This was a disgusting, lowly task that a slave might be assigned–far from anything a king should do. He even knew these men were about to abandon Him but served them anyway.
Ultimately, Christ gave His life for us. And He did so while we were still sinners (Rom. 5:8). Serving others was His lifestyle–part of who He was and what He did. As His followers, we should strive to be like Him.
Therefore, service involves first dying to our selfish attitudes and motives. Only then can we live to glorify Christ. Jesus said that the greatest commandments are to love God wholeheartedly and to love others (Matt. 22:37-39). Ironically, it is only when we humbly serve others that we experience God’s fullness in our own lives.
Many try to achieve happiness by striving after their own desires. The result? Tired, unsatisfied people. True contentment happens only when we walk closely with Jesus. He shows where we can humble ourselves and take care of others. These actions, done through His strength, will be blessed.
The Power of God’s Grace
Grace is one of God’s most amazing gifts. It provides us with everything we need to live in perfect freedom: pardon for our sins, healing for our hearts, the companionship of God’s indwelling Holy Spirit, and access to freely cultivate our relationship with Him. We work, worship, and enjoy life surrounded by His unconditional love. His grace upholds us, fills us, and sustains us.
Since we are forgiven people, the Lord responds to us not as enemies but as His dearly loved children (Rom. 8:15; Eph. 5:1). He hears our prayers, speaks to us, and acts on our behalf.
The knowledge that we live under the covering of God’s grace gives us…
- Security about our position. No one can snatch us out of His hand (John 10:28).
- Boldness to live for Christ. Nothing anyone does or says can shake our confidence in who the Lord is or who we are in Him.
- Peace for today because we can fully trust in His sovereignty. The Lord is carrying out His perfect will–and we can be sure that nothing is able to thwart His plans when we cooperate with Him.
- Hope for the future. This life is just the beginning. One day we’ll see Jesus face to face, be perfected as the individuals He created us to be, and live with Him in our true home forever.
The Lord is committed to transforming each of us according to His special plan for our lives. Even His correction is an expression of His loving favor (Heb. 12:10). When we falter or fail, we can rest assured that His amazing grace hems us in and always offers us redemption.
Following the Father’s Example
Do you have a strong relationship with your children? The way we first think about God has much to do with how we were parented—especially by our father. What image of the Lord are you portraying?
Many men struggle in their role as dads because their own fathers were either absent—physically or emotionally— or poor examples. But regardless of what a person experienced in the past, the best thing any parent can do is imitate God the Father. But how do we know who He really is?
We get our best glimpse of what the heavenly Father is like by looking at His Son. Speaking with the disciples, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me . . .
He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:6, 9). Not only is Christ our path to relationship with God; He is also the way we come to know the Father’s true character.
When we look at Jesus’ life, what do we see? He was merciful, patient, gentle, compassionate, kind, and full of goodness toward all people (Matt. 9:10-13). The Savior healed the sick, provided for needs, and offered forgiveness—regardless of the offense (Matt. 14:14-21; Luke 23:34). But in love, He didn’t hesitate to discipline or correct others when required.
More than a solid education or material possessions, your child’s greatest need is a role model of devotion to God through prayer, Bible reading, and holy living. If you make knowing and following the heavenly Father your first priority, you won’t have to worry about what kind of parent you will be.
Standing Before God’s Open Door
The apostle Paul had passion and vision to reach the world with the good news about salvation. As he followed the Spirit’s leading, his determination proved effective. There’s no telling how many lives the Lord transformed through this man. And his influence is still impacting people today.
Paul knew that Jesus had instructed His followers to “make disciples of all the nations,” teaching them to observe everything He had commanded (Matt. 28:19). God led and enabled the apostle to do his part in carrying out this divine mission.
But think about life back then—that was a big task for a time when there was no mass communication. Paul could only teach, write, or train others to share the truth. In spite of limited means, however, he obeyed fervently and effectively.
God’s command is still relevant for us today. He has given us the work of telling all nations about redemption through Christ’s blood and resurrection. Compared to Paul, we have an abundance of communication capabilities—including radio, television, Internet, and cell phones—which provide easy access into countries all over the world. We could make more disciples by better utilizing these technologies. But how tragic if we get busy and fail to obey God’s command.
We stand at a critical moment in history for the church. The door of opportunity is wide open for us to share the gospel through a variety of methods. As believers, we are obligated to carry out Christ’s Great Commission. Be careful that neither busyness nor apathy keeps you from obedience.
Drawing from the Source
For us as believers, contentment should be governed by inner attitude and the decisions we make rather than by external circumstances. Because Paul had learned this secret, he was able to experience joy and peace in any kind of situation–whether he was surrounded by friends or isolated in a Roman prison; whether he had plenty or was in great need.
The apostle understood what it meant to live in Christ and to have Christ living in him (John 15:1-9; Gal. 5:22-23). He had made a simple but profound faith decision to draw his life from the Lord and, as a result, had the calm assurance that what he possessed inside could never be stolen. He was confident in his identity as a child of the Almighty, with full access to the abundant life Jesus offers.
I want to challenge you–this week, when something threatens to steal your contentment, choose to draw from God; decide to stop drawing from other sources and trying to be in control. When you find yourself becoming flustered, anxious, or angry, stop and say, “Lord, You are my source, and I draw from You the capacity to be kind. I draw from You the forgiveness I need to extend right now. I draw from You the love I need to express.” This decision is a matter of simple trust.
Watch and see how God will quiet your spirit and provide confidence when you draw only from Him as your source. You’ll be surprised at your own attitude: when you respond from within–rather than from the flesh–Jesus will give you the ability to respond as He would.
The Secret of Contentment
In today’s reading, the apostle Paul says he has learned the secret of experiencing contentment in all circumstances, good or bad. Does it surprise you that he wrote this when he was in prison, unsure of his future?
We’re often discontent even when all is going well. Consequently, we wonder how it’s possible to be truly content during our most difficult trials, especially when there’s no end in sight. So what is genuine contentment? Paul is speaking of a freedom from worry and frustration about everything in life–even unfulfilled desires.
It’s usually when we cannot control or change our situation that we feel discontentment. As long as our satisfaction depends on whether certain things actually work out, we’ll allow circumstances to cheat us out of peace. I’m not saying there’s some spiritual stage where you will never again experience anxiety or frustration. But what matters is how we respond when those feelings grip us.
This is something that the apostle had to learn. Paul endured amazing suffering, from shipwrecks and hunger to unjust imprisonment and beatings (2 Cor. 11:24-30). He had gone through countless situations that were uncertain, extraordinarily painful, and seemingly hopeless. But he finally discovered that contentment could not be dependent upon his circumstances.
How do you respond when circumstances are out of your control? Do you get angry? Do you try to escape? Does despair make you want to give up? Paul chose to give his anxieties to Jesus in exchange for peace that “surpasses all comprehension” (Phil. 4:7). That same peace is available to you!
The Requirements of Servanthood
When Jesus left His home in heaven, He didn’t come to earth to be a superstar. He came to serve. As His disciples, we’ve been left here on earth to follow His example and serve a lost and hurting world. The story of Zacchaeus shows us some Christlike qualities that we need to develop in order to serve as the Lord did.
Awareness: Although surrounded by a crowd, Jesus stopped and took notice of one particular man perched in a tree. Zacchaeus was hated and rejected because he was a tax collector. Although he was rich, there was something missing in his life, and Christ recognized his need. There are people all around us “hanging in trees”–needy, empty, and searching for hope. But too often, we’re preoccupied with our activities and don’t even notice them.
Availability: Jesus was heading to Jerusalem to carry out the most important act in human history: our redemption. Yet He stopped to have a meal with a spiritually needy man. What could be so important that it keeps you too busy to give others what they need most–your time?
Acceptance: Although Zacchaeus was a notorious sinner, Jesus didn’t say, “Clean up your act, and then I’ll come to your house.” We’re called, not to fix people but to share the transforming gospel of Christ.
How are you doing at serving those around you? Maybe it’s time to slow down and open your spiritual eyes to see all the needy people. God places opportunities all around us, but if we’re not attentive, we’ll miss them. Sometimes you just have to look up to see who’s in the tree.
Dying to Be a Servant A Parable
Once upon a time there were two grains of wheat lying on the floor of a warm and cozy barn. But one day, the farmer came in and told them, “I want to take you out of this comfortable barn and plant you in the earth. I’m going to place you in the cold ground and cover you with soil. It will be dark, and you will die. But I promise that you will multiply and become very fruitful.”
The first grain of wheat turned down the suggestion. “No way!” he said. “Count me out. I like my comfort, and I don’t want to die.” But the second one, after carefully considering the pain and discomfort of dying, decided the promise of a future harvest was worth the sacrifice. So the farmer took him outside and planted him in the ground, while allowing the first grain of wheat to remain inside the barn.
A few days later, a small green sprout appeared over where the seed had been planted. Then it grew and became a tall stalk of wheat that produced one hundred more grains. For the next forty years, the farmer planted all the seeds that had originated from that first grain of wheat, and year after year, the harvest multiplied. However, the grain of wheat that stayed in the barn remained there by itself, never multiplying–but he was very comfortable.
Which grain of wheat are you? Are you playing it safe, or have you let Christ plant you in the world? The only way you’ll ever become useful and fruitful in God’s kingdom is to abandon your own selfish desires, get out of your comfort zone, and serve the Lord by serving others.
Invest Your Time—Don’t Just Spend It
Time is a most valuable commodity. Since it’s irreversible and irreplaceable,
we ought to give careful consideration to how we spend our days—and even our minutes. Time is a gift from God. That means we are not owners but stewards and will one day be held accountable for how we used what was entrusted to us. According to verse 15, there are only two possible ways to live: wisely or foolishly.
Let’s first consider what is involved in using our time wisely. Those who realize that their days belong to God are careful how they live. Their goal is to understand the Lord’s will and align their schedules
and activities with His purposes. As they seek guidance each day through intimate fellowship with Him in the Word and prayer, their spiritual eyes are opened to discern which opportunities are from the Father and which are not a part of His plans for them.
But those who are foolish do not give adequate thought to the way they live. Some become unproductive and lazy, living for their own pleasures while missing out on God’s purpose for their lives. However, others may be very busy and extremely successful by worldly standards, but if their days are occupied with activities that aren’t God’s will for them, they’re wasting their time.
To make the most of your opportunities, begin each day with the Lord, submitting to His will and asking that He direct your activities. After all, none of us want to get to heaven and discover that even though we’ve been busy spending our time,we have failed to invest it for eternity.
Things That Cannot Be Shaken
As a rule, people like security. We seek what is comfortable. Yet the reality of our world is that much instability exists. For example, finances, health, and even a country’s ability to survive are not guaranteed.
When our foundation is shaken, we often feel overwhelmed. Sometimes
Satan causes the difficulty—with God’s permission, of course. At other times, challenging circumstances are brought about by the Lord’s hand. Regardless of the source, we have the promise in Romans 8:28 that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” And in either case, the Almighty’s purpose remains: to glorify Himself in our world and in our lives.
There are different reasons the Lord permits turmoil, but for now, let’s focus on one: He won’t allow anything that enables man to seem self-sufficient in his own eyes. Therefore, God may lovingly allow enough trouble for us to realize our need of Him. Consider the trials the Israelites faced each time they turned away from Jehovah to worship other gods. In many ways, we do the same thing today. Individually, in our churches, and as a nation, we often glorify “gods” like money or status. But the One who created us will not tolerate this.
In our pride, we tend to think we’re able to manage without God. But out of love, He may stir up our lives to reveal our dependence upon Him. If you are basing your security on anything except Jesus Christ—even something as seemingly innocent as comfort—it will prove to be sinking sand.
The Blessings of Inadequacy
Paul never claimed he was capable of accomplishing all that God called him to do. He simply learned to look beyond his own inadequacy to the sufficiency of Christ. If we’ll adopt the same practice, we, too, can discover the blessings hidden in our own experiences of inadequacy.
Our insufficiency drives us to God. When we realize a situation is bigger than we can handle, we’re quick to open the Bible and diligently pray for guidance and power.
Inadequacy relieves us of the burden of self-effort and self-reliance. The Lord has us right where He wants us–at the end of our rope with nothing left to give.
Inability motivates reliance on divine power. We’ll never be adequate until we draw from the Holy Spirit’s inexhaustible strength. He does in and through us what God never intended that we do on our own.
By using weak, inadequate people, God demonstrates what great things He can do. He actually delights in choosing unlikely individuals to carry out His purposes. There’s no limit to what He can do through someone willing to give Him full control.
Inadequacy challenges our faith. Paul says, “Our adequacy is from God” (v. 5). Those who focus on the reliability of this promise and step out in obedience will grow in faith.
Why go through all the fear, pressure, and frustration that accompany feelings of inadequacy when there’s an alternative? Let the Lord make you adequate: rely upon Him and allow Christ to live in and through you. He will replace your anxiety with a quiet spirit of contentment.
Overcoming the Barrier of Inadequacy
No one likes feelings of inadequacy, but they are something we must learn to handle, as none of us can avoid them permanently. Tragically, though, many people live with a cloud over their head because in their thinking, they never measure up. For some, this may be due to childhood experiences that negatively affected their self-image. For others, the problem stems from a lack of success related to work, relationships, marriage, parenting, or any number of things.
The area Paul deals with in today’s passage is our Christian life. He asks a question that points to a common insecurity: “Who is adequate for these things?” (v. 16). Have you ever avoided serving the Lord in ways that challenge your comfort zone? If so, you’ve probably missed a tremendous opportunity to overcome feelings of inadequacy. He’s promised to lead us “in triumph in Christ,” (v. 14) but unless we believe Him and step out in faith, we’ll never experience the life He has planned for us.
Feeling inadequate is not a sin, but using it as an excuse is. When the Lord challenges you to do something that you feel is beyond your abilities, you have two options. You can focus on Christ and proceed in triumph or focus on yourself and withdraw in defeat.
It’s really a matter of faith. God would never ask you to do something without empowering you to accomplish it. This doesn’t necessarily mean you will do it perfectly, but each step of obedience is a victory. The alternative is to play it safe, but then you’ll miss out on God’s best for your life.
Goal Setting The Key to Success
What three goals would you set for your life if you knew that you could achieve them? Would any of them be spiritual in nature? The apostle Paul was one of the most goal-oriented people in the Bible, yet he understood which pursuits were the most important. His chief ambition was to know Christ, His resurrection power, and the fellowship of His suffering (v. 10).
We’d all do well to adopt these goals, but they sound so broad. How do we put them into practice? First, it’s important to comprehend that a goal is a purpose or direction toward which we work. This concept is fairly easy to understand when we’re talking about specific objectives like going to bed earlier or losing ten pounds, but what steps would you need to take in order to achieve spiritual goals like Paul’s?
Success requires choosing steps that are specific, reasonable, and measurable. For example, if you want to know Christ more intimately, you might commit to spending 30 minutes each day praying and reading His Word. After developing your plan and the steps to accomplish it, put your desire into action. If you don’t take the necessary steps, it will simply remain a wish. No one develops intimacy with Christ through good intentions; it takes commitment, diligence, and perseverance.
If you feel as if your faith is lacking vitality, it may be that you’ve become spiritually lazy. No one intends to slip into complacency. But unless you set some specific goals and work to achieve them, you’ll drift through life and miss the greatest accomplishment of all–learning to know Christ intimately.
Paul was a man who lived life to the full. His goals were to know Christ, abide in His power, fellowship in His suffering, and preach the gospel (Phil. 3:10; 1 Cor. 1:17). In doing so, he aligned his aspirations with the Lord’s, diligently worked to fulfill his calling, and persevered through opposition, persecution, and suffering. He could face the end of his life with confidence since he’d “fought the good fight,” “finished the course,” and “kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).
We’d all like to be able to say the same at the end of our lives, but that means we have to follow Paul’s example. How are you doing at setting goals for your life? Have you thought beyond the immediate and set some long-term objectives? Our culture is so fast-paced that few of us take the time to actually consider where we’re going. But you don’t want to finish your life and find out you were on a course other than God’s, fighting the wrong fight, and struggling to keep the faith.
Why not set aside some time this week to get alone with the Lord. Then ask His help in setting goals that will take you where He wants you to go. Consider every area of your life–personal, relational, financial, and vocational–but make spiritual goals your primary emphasis. Then write them down.
If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting. Maybe it’s time to get out of your rut and find a new path. God will help you change direction and accomplish new goals that align with His will. Don’t settle for the mediocrity of an unplanned life. Start living intentionally.
Feasting on the Word
Did you ever watch an infant take a feeding? Hungry little ones clutch the bottle, smack their lips, and make soft contented noises. They thoroughly enjoy their nourishment. But there comes a time when milk isn’t enough to satiate baby’s appetite anymore. That’s when a whole world of culinary possibilities opens up.
Comparing new believers to babies, Peter said that they “long for the pure milk of the word” (v. 2). You wouldn’t feed a newborn steak and spinach, would you? Well, baby Christians must sip scriptural truths that they understand. Then, like a growing child, they shoot up as they feast on Bible passages, gradually taking in more and meatier principles and topics.
Believers are not left alone to make sense of Scripture any more than babies and young children are expected to get their own meals. The Holy Spirit, who indwells God’s followers, illuminates the Word. That is, He makes the meaning clear to those who seek to understand. Moreover, according to Ephesians 4:11-16, God has given gifted Christians to the church to act as pastors and teachers. They are charged with equipping the saints for service (v. 12). These leaders instruct, clarify, and motivate people to grow in their personal faith and to fulfill the church’s purpose of reaching the lost.
God’s Word is a feast for our heart, mind, and spirit. This is one banquet table where there is no such thing as taking too much. In fact, the advice many parents give their children at the dinner table applies to the Christian life as well: “Eat up! Scriptural food makes you grow strong.”
God’s Compass for the Heart and Mind
Yesterday we discussed the importance of depending on the Word of God as our compass throughout life. Following the Lord’s directions will change behavior and challenge our thinking, attitudes, and desires. He leads us to think differently about ourselves, our values, and and even the difficulties facing us.
We naturally want to determine our own course in life. It seems like the only logical way to get where we want to go. But being wise in our own eyes is pride. To combat this tendency, the Lord instructs us to fear Him and turn away from evil (v. 7). This “fear” is not a horrified dread of the Father, but an attitude of respect that motivates us to obey Him for both our good and His glory.
We naturally want to keep our money for ourselves. A desire for a better lifestyle or fear of not having enough leads us to hang onto everything we get. But our compass directs us to honor God by giving Him the first part of all we have, trusting Him to provide for our needs (vv. 9-10).
We naturally hate God’s discipline. His painful reproofs seem to prove that He doesn’t care about us. But our heavenly Father says His discipline is the evidence that confirms His love and delight in us as His children (vv. 11-12).
Sometimes in our desire to follow the Lord, we focus on obedient actions—doing what He says—but miss His directions concerning our attitudes and thought patterns. To stay on God’s path for our lives, we must make course corrections not only in our behavior but also in our hearts and minds.
How to Handle Praise
How do you respond when someone compliments you? Some people absolutely love receiving praise because it lifts their spirits and makes them feel valuable. Others are uncomfortable with it. They look down at their feet or offer reasons why they really don’t deserve such praise.
For Christians, there’s another dilemma. We’re called to be humble, so what are we to do when others say good things about us? Because pride is always waiting to raise its ugly head, we need to be careful not to let praise puff us up. Some believers think that accepting a compliment is a sign of pride, so they make a big show of giving all the glory to God. That’s fine, if it’s really what’s in their hearts, but too often it becomes a rote “Christian” response that’s geared to impressing others.
My advice is simply to say, “Thank you very much.” Then whisper a prayer in your heart to the Lord, thanking Him for the blessing, recognizing that anything worthy of praise ultimately comes from Him. If you felt encouraged, let the person know how the comment blessed you. If you receive praise for an achievement that was really a group effort, be sure to redirect the compliment to all those who were involved. A blessing is always more enjoyable when it’s shared.
Our character is tested by the praise that comes to us. Every compliment that bounces into our ears should quickly rebound up to the Father. If we hold onto it, the poison of pride will begin to infect our hearts. But if we pass the praise to God, humility takes up residence in our souls.
A Godly Response to Criticism
No one likes criticism, but encountering some is inevitable, so we need to learn how to respond in a godly way. Although you might be tempted to become defensive or angry, remain calm and listen. The words may hurt, but great benefits come to those who carefully consider what is said.
If we refuse to accept reproof, we’ll limit our potential for Christlike character development and spiritual growth. Some of life’s best lessons come through difficult experiences. If God allowed the situation, you can be sure that He wants to use it in transforming you into His Son’s image. Whether the criticism is valid or not, whether it’s delivered with kindness or harshness, your goal should always be to respond in a way that glorifies the Lord. Remember that you are responsible only for how you handle yourself, not for how the other person is acting.
When a criticism comes your way, be quiet and listen until the other person has finished. Make direct eye contact to show attentiveness and respect. When your critic finishes, thank him for bringing his concerns to your attention, and tell him that you will consider what he’s said. Ask the Lord if the accusation is valid. Let Him search your heart and either affirm your innocence or convict you.
Every rebuke is an opportunity from God. It’s a chance to let your Christian character shine by showing love to your critic. If he is angrily attacking you, your respect and kindness become a powerful testimony. Criticism is also an occasion to humble yourself and accept the Lord’s correction.
Responding to Accusation
When conflict occurs, the natural reaction is to blame someone else and defend yourself. But believers must respond differently. Once, I was publicly chastised for a wrong I had not committed. Thankfully, the Lord enabled me to remain calm rather than react angrily. Praying first is always the best response in a crisis. When we do, God supernaturally provides that which we can’t muster up ourselves.
- Spiritual discernment. The Lord, who perfectly understands the source of every problem, can give us insight beyond our limited perspective. Perhaps there’s been a communication breakdown, a feeling of jealousy on the other person’s part, or a mistake we unknowingly made. The Holy Spirit can show us how to approach our accuser and see beyond hurtful words or actions.
- A quiet spirit. Our human nature wants to react quickly so that we can defend ourselves. That’s why we must first deliberately focus our attention on the Lord and experience the inward peace He alone makes available to us (John 14:27).
- Wisdom. Jesus told His disciples the Holy Spirit would give them wise words to say when they faced hostile authorities. He’ll do the same for you. Ask Him to put a seal on your lips until He shows you what to say and when (Ps. 141:3).
We don’t have to react to criticism with anger and self-protection the way the world does. Instead, we are called to represent Christ in every situation by depending on Him. In responding as He directs, we bring Him glory and cause unbelievers to want to know the source of our strength.
The Dangers of False Teaching
The Word of God is truth that’s living and able to penetrate human souls (Heb. 4:12). Consider how powerful Scripture is: it can change hearts, save lives from eternal condemnation, and give hope to the hopeless.
Is it any wonder, then, that the Bible is a battlefield of Satan? The Devil will do his best to destroy its message and truth. In fact, this has been our Enemy’s continuous goal since he chose to turn from God.
Our heavenly Father has graciously let us know in advance the outcome of this ongoing battle: Truth will prevail. But while the Lord has the ultimate victory, Satan can gain ground among individuals. His tactics are dangerous and deceptive to the unsuspecting. For this reason, we should carefully guard against his attacks, which are hard to recognize unless we are prepared.
False teaching is one of Satan’s preferred tactics for leading us astray. At first glance, such instruction often seems to align with Scripture, but do not be misled by the deception. Two things are essential for standing firm against these slippery falsehoods: to be well grounded in the truth of God’s Word and to listen to His Spirit. Only then can we recognize the error and avoid the pitfalls of Satan’s lies.
The Enemy longs to mislead believers so they’ll be ineffective for the kingdom. He also wants to keep all unsaved souls far from salvation through Jesus Christ. Friends, prepare for battle. Grow in the knowledge of truth, and lean on God’s Spirit to guide you moment by moment.
God Is Always In Control
I admit that I often don’t understand why bad things happen. Even so, I believe that God has a purpose for everything He does or permits. My faith is rooted in the biblical principle that says the Lord is sovereign (Ps. 22:28). He is in absolute control of this universe, the natural and political climate of this earth, and my life and yours.
When we are in the midst of a trial, it is hard to resist crying out, “God, Why is this happening?” Sometimes we get the answer and sometimes we don’t. What we can be sure of is that nothing happens by accident or coincidence. He has a purpose for even our most painful experiences. Moreover, we have His promise to “cause all things to work together for good to those who love God” (Rom. 8:28).
Seeing in advance how the Lord will work evil or hurt for our benefit is very difficult, if not impossible. My limited human perspective doesn’t allow me to grasp His greater plan. However, I can confirm the truth of this biblical promise because the Father’s good handiwork appears all through my pain, hardship, and loss. I have experienced Him turn mourning into gladness and have seen Him reap bountiful blessings and benefits from my darkest hours.
As believers, we must accept that God won’t always make sense to us. Isaiah teaches that His ways and thoughts are higher than our own (Isa. 55:9). He sees the beautifully completed big picture. We can rely on the fact that God is in control, no matter how wildly off-kilter our world seems to spin.
When a Nation Turns Its Back on God
Hezekiah was a god-fearing king who brought about reformation among the Israelites. His son Manasseh, however, was an evil ruler. He had watched his father walk with God and live according to Scripture. Yet he chose to ignore the Lord.
Manasseh worshipped false gods, even to the point of sacrificing his sons by fire in order to praise Molech. He practiced much evil—including witchcraft and sorcery— and led Israel astray, thereby provoking God to anger. The king, along with the people, paid a high price for his rebellion.
This story illustrates the Lord’s intolerance of a nation’s disregard toward Him. Now consider our country. We, too, are a nation that pushes God aside—one that has turned away from the only true God and embraced idols. Perhaps these aren’t statues of stone, but we worship money, sports ability, fame, and reputation, to name a few.
The United States of America was founded on biblical principles with the intent to guarantee freedom of worship. But over time, we have removed the Lord from many aspects of public life. Prayer in schools, for instance, was deemed unconstitutional. What was once a “nation under God” has turned into a country that tolerates a growing number of sins and yet belittles absolute truth.
If a nation turns its back on the Lord, His judgment is inevitable unless the people repent and make Him Lord once again. As believers, our responsibility is to pray that God would draw the heart of our country back to Himself—and to help the gospel and truth spread through our land.
Recognize Your Vulnerability
Some Christians see a fellow believer fall into sin but fail to acknowledge that they, too, could stumble. That’s dangerous. Satan has them right where he wants them: deceived by a false sense of confidence. Three enemies are constantly at work trying to bring us down: the Devil, his world system, and our own treacherous flesh.
Even though believers have a righteous standing before God, we must each, like Paul, acknowledge an internal problem: “sin which dwells in me” (Rom. 7:20). Satan takes full advantage of this weakness, luring us with fleshly and worldly temptations. He stokes our pride so we’ll be blinded to our own vulnerability to stumbling.
Christians need to be continually on guard. Since ignorance–of the nature of sin, the strategies of the Enemy, and our own areas of weakness–sets us up for failure, we cannot afford to be careless in our thinking. Anytime you find yourself excusing, redefining, or rationalizing sin, you’ve lost your sensitivity to the Lord. God’s Word must always fill our minds and direct our steps.
If you’ve drifted from the Lord, turn back to Him by acknowledging your sin and accepting full responsibility for it. Repentance simply means changing your mind and going in a different direction–toward God instead of away from Him.
The next step is harder. Respond with gratitude for the Lord’s chastisement. Every time believers fall into sin, God lovingly works to bring them back into a fellowship with Him. His discipline may be painful, but it’s always good because it brings us to our senses and reconnects us with our Father.
The Impact of Prayer
Prayer is the lifeblood of an intimate relationship with the Father. But believers often have questions about its power and effectiveness. Don’t hesitate to take your queries to the Lord, dig into Scripture for answers, and seek the counsel of a trusted spiritual mentor. Prayer is too important to neglect.
Will God’s plans fail if I don’t pray? God is not subservient to believers or dependent upon their prayers. The time we invest in speaking with Him involves us in the work that He is doing in our lives and in the world, but He will carry on without us.Laboring alongside the Lord is our privilege.
Does my prayer (or lack thereof) impact God’s work? I believe that Scripture indicates the answer to this question is both yes and no, depending upon the situation. There are times when God’s purpose is set. He is in control and has determined the best course. In the Old Testament, the Lord often prophesied what He would do and then brought those events to pass.
In other cases, “you do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). There are some good things that He holds back until we put out prayerful hands to receive them. But because God is a loving Father, He also pours our blessings that we wouldn’t even think to request.
Believer’s prayers have tremendous impact, particularly on their own faith and life. Do you understand what an awesome privilege it is to kneel before the all-powerful Father and know that He listens and will respond? God loves to be good to His children and answer their prayers.
When a Fellow Christian Stumbles
The Lord doesn’t want the members of His body to live in isolation; believers are intended to function as a loving family who actively care for each other. One of our responsibilities as part of God’s household is to come alongside a brother or sister who has stumbled. Paul specifies that those “who are spiritual” are to restore the fallen ones to fellowship with the Father and the family. “Spiritual” doesn’t mean some elite group of pious leaders; it refers to any Christians who are living under the Spirit’s control. A key element in this process is the attitude of the one who seeks to restore a fellow Christian.
A Spirit of Gentleness: This isn’t a time for harshness, anger, judgment, or condemnation. Our goal is not to heap pain and guilt upon a hurting brother or sister but to show mercy and forgiveness (2 Cor. 2:5-8).
A Spirit of Humility: Those who have a superior attitude look down on a fallen brother and think, I would never make those mistakes. But the humble know their own vulnerability. Instead of judging others, they examine their own lives in order to recognize and deal with areas of weakness.
A Spirit of Love: When we love others, we’ll willingly sharing their burden. This requires an unselfish investment of our time, energy, and prayer on their behalf.
How do you react when a fellow Christian has stumbled? One of the ugliest human traits is our tendency to feel better about ourselves when another person misses the mark. Instead of sharing the latest gossip about a fallen brother or sister, let your heart break, and come alongside to love and help.
Practical Ways to Bear Burdens
There are hurting people everywhere, but at times we just don’t know what to say or do to ease their pain. Here are six practical ways to bear someone else’s burden.
- Be there. At times the best “method” of helping is simply to be present. During our darkest hours, we don’t need someone who tries in vain to fix everything; we just need a friend.
- Listen. Don’t attempt to give answers or tell people what to do next. Injured souls frequently want simply a listening ear so they can express what’s on their mind.
- Share. Never parade yourself as someone who has all the answers. Instead, allow your own pain and failures to help others.
- Pray. There is power in speaking people’s names before the Lord. When they hear someone talk to Jesus on their behalf, healing often starts taking place.
- Give. Sometimes helping others involves more than a handshake or warm hug. Maybe they need something financial or material. One of the best measures of sincerity is how much we’re willing to give to others.
- Substitute.You may know an individual who bears the burden of caring for someone else. If you step in and take his or her place for a while, you are emulating your Savior–He, too, was a substitute.
Because we were unable to do it ourselves, Jesus bore all of our sin and sorrow, even unto death. As a result, we can live happily and eternally in communion with our Father. If Christ did that for us, how can we ever say, “I’m too busy to bear someone else’s burden”?
Choosing Love over Rights
We talk a lot about rights these days. Yet the attention given to human entitlements hasn’t brought about corporate or personal freedom. Instead, most people are prisoners of jealousy (you have greater rights than I do!), greed (I deserve more!), or bitterness (my rights have been violated!).
Instead of focusing on the privileges due us, we should take the biblical perspective of loving enemies and forgiving persecutors (Matt. 5:44). Believers lay down their rights so they can take up the cause of a holy kingdom. That doesn’t mean that we let people trample on us. Rather, we offer a proper response according to biblical principles. In short, believers should be more concerned about showing God’s love to those who do wrong than about demanding their rights.
Maybe you’re thinking, But he doesn’t know how I’ve been mistreated. Indeed I do not. But what I do know is how Jesus Christ, our example, reacted to terrible abuse. He was betrayed by His friends, persecuted by His people, condemned by His peers, and crucified for our sins. Yet He said, “Father, forgive them” Luke 23:34.
Before assuming that Jesus’ capacity for forgiveness and love is out of reach for mere human beings, remember: His Spirit dwells in believers. We can choose to give away our rights and let God’s love work through us.
Luke 6:29 says to turn the other cheek and give up more than is asked because expressing love outweighs exerting our rights. You can’t lose when you show others the boundless care of the Lord. You gain His blessing, and, hopefully, someone will be saved because of your example.
Impossible Love Made Possible
When a lawyer asked Jesus which commandment was the greatest, He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all you heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and “the second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt. 22:37, 39). What an overwhelming assignment!
In our own strength, none of us can live up to this obligation, but the Lord has provided a way for Christians to do the impossible. The indwelling Holy Spirit works to produce His fruit in us, and first on the list is love (Gal. 5:22). In fact, the other eight qualities are really just descriptions of its expression.
Whenever we demonstrate kindness, patience, or gentleness, we see the Lord’s love at work through us, especially when the other person has been unkind and doesn’t deserve such pleasant treatment. This fruit is not produced by trying harder to muster good will toward someone who is irritating or hard to get along with. Instead, think of the process more like sap running through a branch on a grape-vine. The branch doesn’t make grapes; the sap does. In the same way, the Spirit flows through us, producing God’s love in us, so that we can pass it on to Him and others.
Agapelove is the reason we are able to care for someone who mistreats us—it’s God’s doing, not ours. Even the adoration we offer the Lord is not something that we can produce in our own heart apart from His assistance. Though the command to love is enormous,God’s grace makes it possible.
A Call to Godly Living
The apostle Paul lived in an age when sensuality, the pursuit of pleasure, and rebellion against the Lord were prevalent. In response, he wrote letters urging Christians not to follow in the ways of the world. Like those early believers, we are to pursue godliness by.
1.Presenting our bodies to God. Our total being–mind, will, emotions, personality, and physical body–are to be turned over to our heavenly Father James 4:7. Submitting ourselves to the Lord requires a definite decision to give Him control and a daily commitment to remain under His authority. By surrendering to Him, we will position ourselves for godly living.
2.Becoming living sacrifices. The Christian life is built around the concept of sacrifice. Jesus left the perfection of heaven to dwell among a sinful people so He might reconcile us to God. He offered up His life to make payment for our sins 1 John 3:16 and brought us into His family. As believers, we are to follow His example. Paul called it a living sacrifice, because it is ongoing–one that is repeated daily.
Life is full of options. Many decisions involve a choice between following God’s way or our own. Maturing Christians will increasingly sacrifice their own desires and embrace His will.
A life of godliness is characterized by a heart and mind bent toward the things of God. Although we will live imperfectly, our focus is to be on obeying His will and pleasing Him. Let’s commit to becoming more like Jesus, the One who willingly gave Himself to God as a sacrifice for us.
A Faith Worth Passing Down
The most precious thing we can pass down to children is our faith–the confident conviction that God is who He says and will do all He has promised. Timothy’s strong relationship with Christ didn’t materialize out of thin air; it grew as a result of his mother and grandmother’s example.
Here are ways we, too, can hand down a rich legacy to the next generation:
- Teach practical biblical principles. Kids need to know God’s views on material wealth (Ps. 24:1), meeting needs (Phil. 4:19), and direction in life (Prov. 3:5-6).
- Model character through lifestyle. How we live–whether with transparency, peace, and perseverance, or with fear, anxiety, and self-reliance–loudly communicates what we believe about God.
- Serve God by serving others. Actions show that our faith is real James 2:26. If we want kids not to develop a self-centered perspective, servanthood is key.
- Intercede for them. Children won’t forget hearing us pray regularly for them.
- Communicate love. Young people need to know we love them the way God loves us–unconditionally rather than based on what they do or don’t do. Spoken words of love breathe life into their hearts. And as we affirm them for trusting God, they see that we value their spiritual growth.
As parents, we must be intentional about leading and inspiring our sons and daughters to follow Christ. But even those without children of their own can leave a legacy. The example to follow is Paul: though neither married nor a natural parent, he was a spiritual father to many (1 Cor. 4:14-16).
The Family Influence Good or Bad
Proverbs 22:6 tells us, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” What a great responsibility this places on parents. Records of royal lineage (1 Kings 15-16) illustrate that one’s level of submission to God is often mirrored in the offspring’s life.
Now, it’s true that children eventually grow and make their own decisions. There are godly parents who are heartbroken by their kids’ poor choices. Similarly, some from backgrounds full of sinful bondage become righteous people of integrity.
As mothers and fathers, we are given a momentous task: to model and teach how to live according to God’s Word. Thankfully, we don’t have to rely on ourselves for wisdom. Good parenting involves prayerful self-evaluation, godly counsel, and thoughtful course corrections.
Start by considering how you’d answer the following questions if your children were to walk in your way: What place will Jesus, the Word of God, and the church have in their lives? Will they seek God’s direction as the ultimate guide for decisions? Will they develop strong godly relationships? Will they know how to handle money wisely? Will they do their best in their vocation? As you seek answers, ask God to reveal truth, since self-examination can be difficult.
In prayerfully considering your impact as a parent, expect to see positives and negatives. The goal isn’t self-condemnation, so keep in mind 1) there’s no perfect parent and 2) it’s never too late. Even if the kids are grown, you can ask forgiveness, share what you’ve learned, and model a godly life starting now.
Influences from Childhood
No one’s childhood is perfect. What we experienced during those years has a profound impact, even into adulthood. Things we saw, heard, felt, and even things we did not feel can affect us later in life.
As one might expect, external influences do help to shape our personality. However, the result is not always predictable. For example, early years full of painful experiences leave deeps wounds in some, but in others, they contribute to the development of depth and perseverance.
Whether your younger years were joyful or painful, it can be valuable to consider what their impact was, back then as well as in the present. You might start by exploring your responses to key childhood events. Next, identify traits that you appreciated in your parents and others–qualities you’d like to nurture in your own life. Finally, think about people with characteristics that impacted you negatively. Ask God for healing and freedom from the patterns you may have developed in response. Then shift your focus to godly attributes you want to exhibit instead, such as peace, grace, and gentleness.
The heavenly Father wants to free you from any negative trends that took root early in life. He can break any unhealthy pattern and replace it with hope and deep satisfaction in Him.
As you explore the effects of childhood experiences, pray to see through a lens of truth. When you recognize ways that others negatively influenced you, pray for strength to forgive and God’s help in mending areas of brokenness–whether spiritual, emotional, relational, or mental.
Which interests you more—who Jesus is or what He can do for you? I’m afraid that too many of us are more concerned about what He can give us than we are about getting to know who He is.
But this is nothing new—Jesus had this problem when He walked on earth. The crowds often sought Him out for what He could do for them. Even though their needs were quite often legitimate, Christ knew their motives.
There is a fine line between selfishly trying to use the Lord to get what we want and humbly coming to Him with our needs and struggles. Some of the issues we bring to Him are so pressing and urgent in our minds that our desire for Him to take action in the way we want becomes greater than our willingness to submit to His will. At times, what we call “faith” is really a demanding spirit.
We must remember that our needs will come to an end, but Jesus Christ will remain forever. If our prayers have dealt only with presenting our requests to the Lord, we’ve missed a great opportunity to get to know the One with whom we’ll spend eternity. Let’s invest time in pursuing intimacy with Christ. Then we can enjoy the benefits of that relationship forever.
How much of your communion with God is devoted to your needs—even legitimate ones? Are you spending any time getting to know the Lord? Although God delights in our prayers and tells us to pray about everything, He also wants us to come to Him just because we enjoy being with Him.
The Comfortable Church
I think it’s fairly evident that the society we live in is very self-centered, and this same characteristic can be present in a church. Whenever a local body of believers develops an inward focus, its fruitfulness in ministry begins to decrease, and each member’s Christian walk is hindered.
Many believers want their church to be cozy and comfortable. They come to listen to a nice sermon, fellowship with friends, and have their needs met. But Godnever intended for the gathering of His people to be like a country club; He calls us to join an army that will bring the gospel into enemy territory.
An effective church—one that poses a real threat to the Enemy—is a body of discipled people who have been taught the truth of Scripture, trained for service, and helped to mature spiritually. But all this is accomplished for the purpose of going out into the world, not for becoming a self-contained sanctuary of Christian comfort.
The urgency of the Lord’s command and the desperate condition of humanity should motivate us to leave the safety of our Christian fellowships and deliver the message of salvation through Jesus. To avoid this responsibility is to miss the Father’s plan for your life and the opportunity to help build His kingdom.
None of us want to waste time or energy on trivial things and thereby miss the exciting fulfillment of God’s will. He has called us, not to a life of comfortable tradition, but to an adventure of obedience. Answer His call—you’ll help fill His kingdom with people from every tribe and nation.
Tragedy in the Church House
Every Sabbath countless people all over the world sit in church buildings with a false sense of security. They assume that their morality, lifelong church membership, or baptism will earn them a place in heaven. While many of these folks sincerely desire to please God, they are confused about what the Christian life is all about. They think in terms of doing rather than being. So they imitate the actions of good Christians: going to a weekly service, praying, reading the Bible, and trying to be decent people.
However, salvation is not the product of good works. We come into the world with a corrupt nature, and all our wrongdoing is born of a heart turned away from the Lord. Because we are sinful people, we sin. It’s that simple. The good news is that in the salvation experience, we are given a brand-new nature (2 Cor. 5:17). Our sin is wiped away because Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself for us. From the moment we trust in Him, the Holy Spirit dwells in our heart so that we can live righteously.
The world values action, but the Father prioritizes relationship–specifically a right relationship with Him. People who scurry about flaunting religiosity are missing out on the deeply satisfying and joyous intimacy between a believer and the Lord.
We can help turn others’ tragic misunderstanding into triumph by being ready to explain why we have hope (1 Peter 3:15). Speak of the personal relationship with Christ that’s possible when a person admits his need and trusts in the Savior. If your light shines, it reflects well on the church.
Choosing to Believe
Faith isn’t something we can lay claim to because we were born to believing parents or have citizenship in a Christian country. Nor can we attain it by attending or even teaching Sunday school, though I’ve often heard such incorrect assertions. Instead, the following should be true of genuine believers.
A clear understanding of the gospel is essential for a person to believe and receive the good news of Jesus Christ. His death on the cross was the only sacrifice required to remove our sins. God offers His grace as a gift to anyone who will receive it.
A definite decision at a particular point in time serves as a sort of landmark of the heart and mind. People do not just slip into Christianity; faith in Jesus must be chosen. Believers are those who have made a deliberate decision to trust the Lord and follow in His ways.
A blessed assurance follows the clear-cut decision so that believers can be certain of their salvation. God wants confident, assured children (1 John 5:13).
A visible symbol of what happens when someone receives the Savior–namely, baptism–illustrates dying to one’s old ways and rising to new life in Christ Jesus. Believers are to take this step as a public way of identifying with Him (Matt. 28:19).
A man or woman of faith chooses to surrender to Christ, embraces the Word of God, and lives fully for the Lord. True believers no longer muddle through the practices of religion out of habit, but instead worship and rejoice in a vibrant personal relationship with the Lord.
How to Serve the Church
When I talk about serving the church with God-given talents and gifts, people oftentimes think too small. They picture the choir singer or the Sunday school teacher. But if they don’t happen to be naturally adept at singing or teaching, they give up.
It’s time we stop thinking in terms of a “Sunday only” establishment. The church is not a place or a time; it is a body of believers, each one uniquely gifted by God to guide, help, challenge, and support the rest. In fact, most service to the Lord doesn’t take place inside the church building. It happens out in the world, where we do all the things that Scripture commands.
Most believers are not in a position to influence a lot of people. When we act or speak, only those closest to us notice, but a chain reaction ripples outward to affect an entire community. Paul’s metaphor of body parts working together harmoniously is a helpful description of how one small action can have a widespread impact. Consider the way tensing your big toe keeps your foot stable and thereby steadies your whole body. In the same way, a gentle rebuke, a listening ear, or a loving deed benefits the church by strengthening one brother or sister, who then supports another…
We are on this earth to serve the kingdom of God and His church. And we do that by ministering to each other in small ways that steady the whole body as we give extra support to one member. In talking about such service, I am challenging you to find a need that God can meet through you.
A Caring Church
Do you realize that believers should not have to look beyond the body of Christ to have their needs met? We are meant to be a self-sustaining body. After several decades in ministry, I have seen only one way for the church to function as it should: believers must commit to give of themselves on behalf of others.
For example, a man determines to pray and struggle alongside a hurting brother until the burdensome situation is resolved or peace returns. Or a woman makes herself available to answer a new Christian’s questions about the weekly sermon–the two ladies search the Bible and fill their minds with Scripture. And there are countless other ways to serve others, such as driving an elderly member to the service, teaching a Sunday school class, or visiting a weary single mom and listening to her concerns.
Before you become overwhelmed by the variety of needs in your church, let me remind you that loving each other is meant to be a body-wide effort. One person cannot meet every need. But suppose you commit to serving a small group of folks whom God brings into your sphere of influence. If, in order to care for them, you surrender self-focused preferences about resources and time, the Lord will bless you with more joy and contentment than you’ve ever known.
To serve others before serving yourself is to practice authentic Christianity. I’m certain that if believers commit to meeting as many needs as the Lord brings to their attention, then a lazy church can be transformed, becoming a true body of believers who function together for the glory of God.
Do Not Neglect Your Spiritual Gift
Every Christian is given at least one spiritual gift with which to serve the Lord and build up the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:7). But many believers neglect this special empowerment of the Spirit. Although Timothy had some good reasons to forsake his calling from God, Paul advised him to “take pains with these things” and “be absorbed in them” (v. 15). As you look at Timothy, ask yourself if either of the following situations are hindering you from fully serving the Lord.
Age: No matter how old we are, the Lord wants us to use our spiritual gifts. Because Timothy was young, he could easily have been intimidated by those with more experience. However, youth isn’t our only excuse. Some believers think they’re too old to serve the Lord. Even though our areas of ministry may change over the years, we’re never called into spiritual retirement.
Inadequacy: Have you ever avoided a service opportunity simply because you felt totally unqualified? That’s probably how Timothy felt about leading the church at Ephesus. Our spiritual gifts rarely come to us fully developed. God often requires that we step out in faith and trust Him to work in and through us. Over time, as we obey and serve Him in our areas of giftedness, He increases the effectiveness of our ministry.
Is anything keeping you from using your spiritual gifts? Though given to us, these abilities aren’t for us; they’re for the church. To neglect them would not only deprive fellow believers but also rob ourselves: there is joy and blessing in serving others and doing the work God has designated for us.
The Service of Motherhood
Children are a blessing from the Lord (Ps. 127:3-5). Motherhood is a great honor and privilege, yet it is also synonymous with servanthood. Every day women are called upon to selflessly meet the needs of their families. Whether they are awake at night nursing a baby, spending their time and money on less-than-grateful teenagers, or preparing meals, moms continuously put others before themselves.
Sometimes this constant serving can be exhausting and even discouraging—particularly for a first-time mother. But you can take real encouragement from Jesus. One of the best examples of gracious servanthood is found in John 13:3-16. By kneeling to wash His disciples’ feet, the Lord showed that the key to true leadership is humility. And it is humility that leads to eternal reward.
Unless you are willing to stoop down and get your hands dirty, you will miss the real riches of motherhood. By dying to your own desires and pouring your life into someone else, you become like Christ and create a godly legacy that will carry on for generations to come. What greater blessing could one hope for? Of course, the motivation for serving others is not to reap benefits, but when we follow God’s plan for our life, that’s what happens.
In giving us children, God places us in a position of both leadership and service. He calls us to give up our lives for someone else’s sake—to abandon our own desires and put our child’s interests first. Yet, according to His perfect design, it is through this selflessness that we can become truly fulfilled.
Understanding the Bible
“I just don’t understand the Bible.” That’s a comment I hear quite often, even from believers. We can understand why those without Christ are unable to comprehend biblical concepts, but why do those who know Him struggle? Some people think that a seminary education is the answer, but I have met several trained pastors and teachers who didn’t really understand the Word of God. They knew facts, but they had no excitement for the Scriptures or for the Lord.
The key is not education but obedience. As we act on what we read, the Holy Book “comes alive,” and we begin to hear and understand the voice of God. However, if we have not obeyed what He’s previously revealed to us, why would He give us His deeper truths? “The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him” (Ps. 25:14), and those who fear Him are the ones who obey His commandments and are promised “a good understanding” (Ps. 111:10).
Living a fleshly lifestyle of disobedience to the Lord clouds our eyes, diminishes our ability to hear, and fogs our thinking. Although we have full access to the mind of Christ, our attachment to our own sinful ways keeps us from tapping into the rich treasures of wisdom that are found in His Word.
As you read the Scriptures each day, look for God’s instructions. Then with reliance upon the Holy Spirit, commit to do what He tells you. When you obey His voice, He’ll reveal deeper truths, and your understanding will grow. Soon your time in the Word will become a delight instead of a duty.
The Church God’s Design
When you hear the word “church,” do you picture a little white building full of smiling people in fancy clothes? As lovely as that image may be, God’s design for church is unrelated to it. He created the church to be a unified fellowship of believers who encourage each other and carry out His ministry to the world.
The Bible clearly defines the following as ministries of the church: worshiping the living God, instructing and edifying believers, making disciples of all nations, and serving the needy. Unless the leadership is careful, however, these purposes can all too easily get out of balance, with the unfortunate result that the body ends up malnourished. For example, a church with too heavy an emphasis on praise might become introverted. Congregations that overemphasize teaching could lose their joy, and those that evangelize to the neglect of the other areas could miss out on great faith.
Because of sin and human imperfection, we do not experience church as it was originally intended. Instead, there’s a tendency to overstress certain ministry areas. What’s more, divisive arguments–many of which concern minor issues, such as music preferences–too often destroy unity. Greed, pride, selfishness, and gossip can also tear a congregation apart.
Since they’re composed of imperfect people, churches will be imperfect too. Though expecting anything else leads to disappointment, we should nonetheless strive for God’s original design, continually measuring ourselves against Scripture and correcting course to realign with His purpose.
The Church What Is It All About
Church buildings are plentiful in our country. Locating one may be easy, but wisely deciding which to join involves more effort. God’s Word gives us some specific instructions in this matter.
First, let’s explore the original biblical meaning of the word “church.” The term ecclesia meant a group of people who are called out of the world’s system by God’s grace for the purpose of assembling to worship and serve Christ. Ephesians 5:29-30 further specifies that believers are the body and Jesus is the head of such a fellowship. Under His leadership, we can enjoy the unity and purpose that He intended.
God’s design for this sacred gathering involves worship, instruction, encouragement, evangelism, and ministry to those in need, both within the fellowship and outside its walls. A healthy, vibrant congregation is possible only when members rely fully on the Holy Spirit’s guidance. The work of the church is to be done in His power, in humble, prayerful submission to the Lord.
To help you determine whether a church is following the design laid out in Scripture, here are some important questions to ask: Do they believe God’s Word is infallible and inerrant? Is the church disciplining her people? Does the fellowship have some kind of missionary or evangelistic program?
Joining a congregation is an important decision, as a fellowship of believers is one tool God uses to mature and encourage His children. Those three questions can be helpful in discerning God’s will. Listen for His Spirit to warn or direct as you prayerfully investigate your options.
Praying the Promises of God
Jesus made it clear that we would endure hardship in this life. But God gave His children amazing tools to keep trials from overwhelming us. For instance, He placed His Spirit inside each believer to guide and empower. In addition, He gave us prayer so we could not only communicate and stay connected with our Father but also bring Him our requests.
Today I want to focus on yet another one of His marvelous gifts: the Bible. Scripture is the actual Word of God Almighty. It is truth. It never changes. It enables us in all circumstances, so we have a sure foundation on which to base our lives and decisions.
There are thousands of promises in the Bible–countless assurances that we can rely on with perfect confidence. God wants us to learn them so we won’t miss out on blessings He wants to give. And wise believers will turn His promises into prayers and the cries of their hearts.
Let me give you an example that relates to difficult decisions. Psalms 32:8 states, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.” We can pray God’s words back to Him, saying that we believe He will teach us and reveal His path, while remaining by our side as our caregiver through the entire situation.
When hardships arise, we need a solid foundation on which to stand. Otherwise, our emotions could easily lead us astray through faulty thinking. God is faithful and unchanging, so we can trust in His promises, which enable us to rest confidently and act boldly.
Seeking Guidance: The First Step
By forsaking the broad worldly way, believers have chosen a narrow path (Matt. 7:13). However, we’re not wandering blindly on it. The Holy Spirit is our guide. He directs our steps toward new opportunities and offers discernment so we can make wise decisions that keep us on course for God’s will.
It is the nature of this journey that we have to stop often and seek guidance. God is pleased to respond to earnest requests for direction, as He wants to keep His followers in the center of His will. But I’ve discovered that many Christians wonder how to pursue divine guidance.
Seeking God’s direction involves a pattern that begins with cleansing—in other words, the first place to look is at ourselves. Ask, “Father, do You see anything in my life that might interfere with my understanding what You are saying?” Sin shuts down the guidance process: it strangles the power flowing from the Holy Spirit and thereby clouds our judgment (1 Thess. 5:19). First John 1:9 tells us that God cleanses unrighteousness when we confess our sins. The Bible also contains a clear warning for those who refuse to relinquish a rebellious habit or attitude—the Lord does not hear their cries (Ps. 66:18). As He brings to mind problem areas, lay them before the cross.
Cleansing is actually woven into the entire process of gaining divine guidance. God brings sin to our attention as we’re equipped to deal with it. So on the way to receiving His clear direction, we may revisit this “first” step often and in that way can experience a time of rich spiritual growth and renewal.
Listening with Purpose
Yesterday we learned about hearing the Word with eagerness and attentiveness. Now, let’s think about approaching the Bible purposefully, expectantly, and prayerfully.
Christians study the Scriptures not just individually but also corporately to learn more about God and His ways. Underlying this simple concept is a big challenge. To gather biblical knowledge with purpose means determining in our heart to obey what we hear (Ps. 119:33). And to do so expectantly means we believe that the Lord is going to speak specifically to us (Ps. 25:4). Sermons, Sunday school lessons, and quiet times on our own are all things to be anticipated. God uses these to build us up, strengthen us, or offer us comfort—He certainly makes listening to Him worthwhile. And obedience is the only proper response to this kind of personal attention.
Approaching the reading of Scripture prayerfully prepares our hearts to listen well and ushers in an attitude of purpose and expectancy. Today’s passage tells the story of young Samuel’s first encounter with God. The priest Eli gives the boy valuable advice—that when the Lord calls, he should say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (v. 9). Pray those simple words with conviction before you open your Bible, and you will hear God more clearly.
If you want to experience God working in your life, come to Scripture with a prayerful, expectant, purpose-filled attitude. The mourner will be comforted. The weary will gain strength. Those convicted of their sin will repent and know peace. All will sense joy. Recognize what a gift God’s Word is.
Following God’s Schedule
Most of us enjoy feeling in control of our own schedule and grow frustrated when things don’t go according to plan. Yet if we truly desire to walk in the center of God’s perfect will, we must become willing to cooperate with His time frame.
Consider how you pray about situations in your life. Without realizing it, you may be demanding that God follow the schedule you’ve constructed according to your very limited human wisdom. Yet if we believe He is who He says He is, how can surrendering to His way not be to our benefit? Think about His unique, praiseworthy qualities:
His all-encompassing knowledge. Unlike us, the Lord has complete awareness about our world and the details of every individual life–past, present, and future.
His complete wisdom. God understands man’s every motive, whereas none of us are able to accurately discern people’s intentions. We make choices based on partial information, whereas He has the wisdom to take action based on truth.
His unconditional love. Our Creator is always motivated by love and constantly has our best in mind. Unless we trust His heart, our view of reality will be distorted.
His perfect sufficiency. At just the right time, God will provide us with everything we need to carry out His plan.
Submitting to God’s timetable requires faith and courage. Believe in the goodness of His heart and His plans–and determine to wait until He gives the signal to move forward. Then, as you follow His schedule, you’ll experience the joy of watching Him make all things beautiful in His timing.
Trained to Discern
In today’s world, impatience is all too common a trait. We want food, help, and information fast. Just waiting for the computer to boot up or the “next avail-able agent” to answer our call can cause frustration. But the Lord specializes in slow, steady work. He’s more interested in a quality outcome than a speedy process.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the realm of spiritual discernment. When we become Christians, we aren’t instantly wise and knowledgeable. It takes a lifetime to grow to maturity. Some believers, however, don’t seem to grow up at all. They get older, but their understanding of God’s Word never goes very deep.
This lack of godly wisdom is caused by ignorance of the Scriptures, apathy and complacency about spiritual things, and a failure to apply biblical truths. Discernment requires time and effort. You can’t simply move through life, thoughtlessly reacting to situations yet never learning from them. Take time to reflect on your responses and observe the consequences of your actions and choices. If you feel convicted by what you notice, let that motivate you to begin a lifelong pursuit of the Lord and His ways. Start reading the Bible regularly. And as you do, ask the Lord to open your heart and mind to understand what He’s saying.
But just reading God’s Word isn’t enough. Without applying what you’ve read, all you’ll have is head knowledge. Obedience trains us to discern good and evil. Through practice, we learn wisdom and develop spiritual maturity. If you’ll begin today and patiently persevere, in time discernment will come.
Learning from Failure
The disciple Peter was a man of great faith and bold action. But as readers of the New Testament know, his brash style sometimes led him to make humiliating mistakes. More than once, this disciple had to wear the label of “miserable failure” rather than that of “obedient servant.”
We can all relate when it comes to falling short of expectations. Obedience to God is a learning process, and failure is a part of our development as humble servants. When we yield to temptation or rebel against God’s authority, we realize that sin has few rewards, and even those are fleeting.
Failure is an excellent learning tool, as Peter could certainly attest. Through trial and error, he discovered that humility is required of believers (John 13:5-14); that God’s ways are higher than the world’s ways (Mark 8:33); and that one should never take his eyes off Jesus (Matt. 14:30). He took each of those lessons to heart and thereby grew stronger in his faith. Isn’t that Romans 8:28 in action? God caused Peter’s failures to be put to good use as training material because the disciple was eager to mature and serve.
God doesn’t reward rebellion or wrongdoing. However, by His grace, He blesses those who choose repentance and embrace chastisement as a tool for growth.
We would probably all prefer to grow in our faith without ever making a mistake before God’s eyes, but we cannot deny that missteps are instructive. Failure teaches believers that it is much wiser and more profitable to be obedient to the Lord. That’s a lesson we all should take to heart.
A Dark Sabbath
Just as Christ once rested in the stern of a boat through a raging storm, He rested in the tomb as storms raged within His disciples. A day after Jesus’ death, fear, doubt, and grief must have cycled endlessly through their minds. Memories of their lives with Him must have played there too: how it felt to stand upon a rolling sea, to feed thousands with a few loaves of bread, or to see Lazarus’ burial clothes heaped in the dirt. No doubt their hearts grew sick with confusion as they contemplated these things.
The disciples’ feeble faith shouldn’t surprise us, because if we’re honest, we see it in ourselves. The “little of faith,” as Jesus often called them, failed to believe or remember things the Lord said of Himself—that He’d lay down His life and take it up again. Had His followers faithfully held these things in their hearts, that Sabbath day might have been a time of joyful anticipation.
At times in our lives, God may seem absent, but ultimately we know that He will never leave us (Heb. 13:5). And unlike the disciples, we’ll never experience the dark prospect of a failed Savior. But many times we forget the promises of God. In the face of uncertainty, how frequently do we turn to a “do-it-yourself” Christianity to fix our problems?
Too often we look no further than our own solutions, when what we need is the wonder-working power of Christ’s resurrection and a posture of humility as we wait on Him. If we are willing to wait through the darkness of night, we can rest in knowing that morning will surely come.
Prepared for Betrayal
We’ve all experienced or witnessed betrayal at some point. And no example in the Bible illustrates the pain, guilt, and shame caused by that sin more clearly than the story of Judas.
Chosen as one of the twelve, Judas was privileged. John 12:6 says that he was even granted the responsibility of maintaining the disciples’ money box. But that same verse reveals an important truth about Judas—he was a thief.
John indicates greed was Judas’ weakness. After Mary had anointed the Lord’s feet, Judas complained, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” (v. 5). The following verse, however, clarifies that he wanted the money only for himself. One can safely assume that if Judas had reached the point of stealing cash from Jesus’ supply, then his greed had gone unchecked for some time. That hidden sin was all Satan needed to interfere with his life. And once the Enemy stepped in, the disciple began “seeking a good opportunity” to betray Jesus (Luke 22:6).
First Peter 5:8 says the Devil is like a “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” And in Judas, Satan found a willing victim. If we’re honest with ourselves, each of us has a natural tendency toward sin.
Daily communion with God keeps hidden sins from becoming greater problems. Left unchecked, the “roaring lion” will also come after us, no matter what our weakness may be. Ask the Lord to reveal any sins you need to confess. Deal with them today—don’t let sin lead you down the path of Judas.
The God Who Forgives
Jesus Christ gave His followers a pattern for prayer that includes seeking forgiveness daily. The invitation to regular repentance is not a means of renewing our salvation, but rather a maintenance plan for our fellowship with the Lord. When we trust Jesus as our Savior, our sins are forgiven forever. The stains from our past, present, and future wrongs are wiped from our record; however, we’re a fallen people so we do continue to commit sin.
With the exception of Jesus Christ, no person is perfect. Sin is simply a fact of human life. The Lord’s payment for our transgressions means that we can look forward to an eternity spent in God’s presence instead of getting the punishment we deserve. On this side of heaven, though, we still have to contend with our tendency to do wrong–and we must also deal with the consequences. The Lord’s admonition to seek daily forgiveness is a reminder to confess our sins and turn away from them because we are forgiven.
God’s grace is not a license to sin; instead, it’s a reason to pursue righteousness. Bad attitudes, thoughtless actions, and unkind speech do not fit who we are as children of light. We’re new creatures in Christ, bought for a price and set free to live as partakers of His grace.
Salvation makes a way for us to enter God’s presence, while regular confession and repentance keep the pathway well maintained and free of obstruction (1 John 1:9). The so-called “sinner’s prayer” need be said only once, but a saint will tap into God’s forgiveness every day of his or her life.
The God Who Saves
Recently I was talking with a fellow about his spiritual life. When I asked, “Are you saved?” he answered, “No, but I’m working at it.” When I pressed him, he explained that he was making some changes in his life. He had given up smoking and drinking, among other things. I knew that I should help him understand a few important principles, as his only guarantee so far was better health.
What this gentleman needed to realize was that what we do or what we give up for Jesus doesn’t amount to much. The Lord isn’t looking for people who change a few habits by sheer force of will; He’s calling people to surrender themselves to Him. The only action God expects of a “seeker” is to believe in Jesus–that He is who He says, He will do what He says, He has the authority to forgive, and He will equip His people to live a godly life. Because of those convictions, a new Christian is empowered to turn away from his old life–in other words, to repent–and begin the process of becoming “a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).
We don’t evolve into a saved people by deleting old habits and instituting better religious ones; we are transformed by the saving power of Jesus Christ when we believe in Him.
Since salvation isn’t something we earn, no one can boast before God. All of our moral living, good deeds, and strenuous efforts to change bad habits amount to a pile of trash compared to the holiness of Jesus Christ (Isa. 64:6). Only His righteousness can cover our sins and make us right before the Father.
David A Model of Servanthood
David served God in many capacities–from simple shepherd boy to heroic ruler. Looking at the various stages of his life, we can see clearly how his godly devotion allowed the Lord to use him mightily.
Shepherd: David was anointed king long before commanding anything other than sheep (1 Sam. 16:1-13). Protecting the sheep was a job he took seriously, even killing a lion and a bear to do so. During those days, he learned to be strong and brave, and to take care of creatures weaker than himself. An early life of obedience to his human father taught him the humility he would later need in order to depend on God.
Psalmist: David’s writings reveal his hunger for God. He is open about issues like fear, depression, defeat, loneliness, and sorrow. By describing valley experiences and communing with the Father in the night watches, David provided us with intimate glimpses of the God he knew so well.
Commander: Starting with David’s encounter with Bathsheba, the king’s life was plagued by heartache, pain, suffering, and conflict. David had sinned greatly, but God forgave him and continued to use him. He ruled Israel for 40 years, and his people called Jerusalem the “City of David.” His restoration teaches us about the consequences of sin and the limitlessness of God’s grace.
King David served God’s purpose when he lived, and continues to do so hundreds of years later–every follower of Christ has been blessed by David’s obedience, service, and literary skill. He is a great example of what God can accomplish through us if we yield our life to Him.
What Is Your True Purpose
What do you live for each day? A pay raise? Retirement? Then perhaps you’ve discovered the reality that basing aspirations on getting ahead in this world typically ends in disappointment. People with a misguided sense of direction often wonder why they feel unfulfilled.
Maybe you’ve already realized a goal of saving for the future or moving up the corporate ladder. You give to charity and volunteer at church, but somehow still feel a sense of insignificance or aimlessness. If so, there is a truth you need to hear: God gives each of us life for a very specific reason: to serve Him. Nobody finds inner peace without reconciling this fact. Our society teaches us that pleasure, prosperity, position, and popularity will make us happy–but living in the service of self always leaves an emptiness no earthly reward can fill.
Besides, worldly philosophy won’t stand the test of time. Few of us are going to live even 100 years. So whatever we’ll become in this life, we’re in the process of becoming that right now. Consider David: he was anointed king long before actually assuming the role (1 Sam. 16:12). He spent many years serving the purpose of God in insignificant places while developing into a great man. As his story shows, discovering God’s purpose for your life is the surest path to success.
Our heavenly Father’s purpose for our lives comes from His heart of love–which is perfect. None of us can foretell the great things He has in store for us, but we can trust His plan completely. Surrender to Him today and say, “Not my will, Lord, but Yours be done.”
The Value of Seeking the Lord
We all have ambitions and desires. And while these are not necessarily wrong, we should analyze our priorities: Where do I invest my time and energy? What or who occupies my thoughts? As important as our earthly pursuits, responsibilities, and relationships may be, they cannot compare to the value of a life spent seeking the Lord.
First of all, consider what it means to seek something. The word connotes a strong desire and an energetic quest to achieve it.Suppose you discovered a very productive vein of gold on your property. You wouldn’t just stroll out and look at it occasionally. No, you would gather some equipment and diligently go out each day to chip away at the rocks and collect the precious metal.
In the same way, seeking the Lord is not a quick and occasional encounter, but a wholehearted effort to know Him more intimately and follow Him more closely. Those who unreservedly pursue this kind of fellowship with God are determined to spend time with Him; they also want to forsake anything that could hinder growth in their relationship with the Lord. God’s committed followers boldly claim His promises and trust Him to fulfill His Word. Their experiences with the Lord bring amazing satisfaction yet cause them to hunger for more of Him.
The Christian life is meant to be a pursuit of God. To walk through the door of salvation and stand still, never drawing any closer to Him, is to miss the treasures that are available in Christ. Those who seek Him soon discover that knowing Him is the greatest reward of all.
April 15/16, 2017
Hindsight is always 20/20. Yet while we are in a particular situation, we tend to make things out to be what theyaren’t and infer wrong meanings. We kick ourselves, thinking, If only I had known then what I know now!
Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem must have been one of those moments for His disciples. It had appeared to be such a wonderful day for them—and it was, but for different reasons than they realized. They thought the Messiah had come to reestablish Israel’s power in the world. But God had something else in mind.
The disciples weren’t the only ones who had misconceptions about the Messiah. Many Jews of the day expected Him to be an earthly king. When the crowds heard Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they cheered, “Hosanna! ” which means, “Save now!” They saw Him as their new King, come to bring salvation from political and societal oppression. He raised the dead—no doubt he could also restore the kingdom of David and free them from Roman rule.
Seated upon a donkey, Jesus resembled a ruler returning to his city in peacetime, loyal subjects lining his path with coats and palm fronds. Even the Pharisees were there watching in indignation, saying, “Look, the world has gone after Him” (John 12:19).
This week, think back to those times when circumstances looked one way but turned out to be something else entirely. Remember when you realized God was different than you imagined and saw His will unfold in surprising ways. Look for an opportunity to share your insight with a friend or loved one.
A Heart for God A Vision for the World
I sometimes like to walk through a cemetery and read the epitaphs on the tombstones. It’s interesting to see what words are used to sum up a person’s life. This may seem like a morbid pastime, but it’s actually a great way to reassess our own lives. We’re each going to leave a testimony of some kind when we die. Have you ever wondered what your loved ones will write on your gravestone? What words do you want inscribed there?
In our passage today, the apostle Paul tells us God’s evaluation of David: He described him as “a man after My heart, who will do all My will” (v. 22). What an awesome testimony of a life well lived! The Lord wasn’t describing a perfect man, but one whose life was centered on God’s interests and desires.
David’s many psalms attest to the fact that his relationship with the Lord was the most important aspect of his life. His passion was to obey God and carry out His will. However, that doesn’t mean he was always obedient. Who can forget his failure with Bathsheba? But even when he sinned by committing adultery and murder, his heart was still bent toward God. The conviction he felt and his humble repentance afterward proved that his relationship with the Lord was still his top priority.
If God was writing a summary of your life, how would He describe you? Does your heart align with His, or have you let it follow the pleasures and pursuits of this world? Unless we diligently pursue our relationship with the Lord, we will drift away from Him. Maybe it’s time for a course correction.
The Cross The Believer’s Motivation
Paul was single-minded in the message he preached. The cross was not only his primary subject; it was also his motivation for living. When we begin to understand all that Jesus did for us at Calvary, we, too, can receive fresh motivation to live for Him. For instance, we can…
Walk humbly before God. Since the power to live the Christian life is supplied by Christ, there is no room for pride. When Jesus died, our “flesh” nature was crucified with Him so that we could live in newness of life. Any success we achieve in living righteously or walking in obedience is possible only because He is working through us.
Serve the Lord faithfully. At the cross, we were placed “in Christ,” and He is in us (Gal. 2:20). We are now His body on earth, created for good works which God has prepared for us to do (Eph. 2:10). Jesus wasn’t crucified so we could sit in pews each Sunday and listen to sermons. He has specific tasks for each of us to achieve during our lifetime.
Share our faith. Knowing all that Jesus accomplished at the cross should motivate us to share the gospel with others. This world is filled with hurting people who know nothing about salvation. Since their eternal destiny is at stake, how can we keep our mouths closed?
Too often we view the cross only as a past event that secured our eternal destiny, and we fail to see how it can motivate daily choices and activities. Stop to contemplate all that God is continually accomplishing in you though the cross. Let it be your motivation to live wholeheartedly for Christ.
The Cross The Believer’s Victory
From a worldly perspective, Christ’s death signaled His defeat. After all, dying in agony on a cross hardly seems like the path to victory. But it was! And He did it all for us. Because Jesus triumphed over death, we can be victorious in life. Just consider what He won for us by sacrificing Himself on the cross.
Our Eternal Salvation: The cross was the means of our salvation. Without it, we’d have no hope of heaven. If Christ hadn’t died in our place, we’d have to stand before God and receive the just punishment for every sin we’ve ever committed.
Power over Sin: Jesus not only paid the penalty for our sin; He also brought us present victory over it. When He was crucified, our old sinful nature died with Him (Rom. 6:6). The power of the “flesh” was broken, and Jesus now lives His triumphant life through us. That means we are no longer enslaved to sin and can choose obedience to God.
Defeat of Satan: At the crucifixion, the list of decrees against us was nailed to the cross, and the Devil lost his power over our lives (Col. 2:13-15). None of his accusations can stick, because God holds nothing against us anymore. And now every time we yield to the Spirit within us, Satan is defeated once again.
Christ met all our needs on the cross. By making us a part of His family, He gave us a sense of belonging. When He died in our place, He affirmed our value. And by coming to live His life through each believer, He gives us the ability to live a victorious, obedient life.
The First Empty Tomb
Jesus is the only person who has an empty tomb. Everyone else who’s died has returned to the dust, but Christ is alive and seated at the Father’s right hand. Because He overcame death, His followers are also guaranteed empty tombs someday. When Jesus returns for His church, those who have died in Him will be resurrected into glorious bodies. And believers who are alive at that time will instantaneously be changed.
Knowing this, we naturally wonder, What kind of body will I have? The best way to answer that is to see what Scripture reveals about Christ’s body after He rose from the dead. He didn’t come invisibly in the form of a ghost but rather had a literal, physical body. He talked, walked, and ate with His disciples. Yet although He was recognizable, He was somehow different, and at times it took His words or actions to jog their recognition.
Here’s one thing I can tell you about the resurrection: you will look better than you do today! God is going to give you a strong, glorious, eternal body which is perfectly fitted for your life in heaven. Believe me, you will not be disappointed, because God has far more in store for us on the other side than we can ever imagine. You will be more alive there than you could ever be here.
A more important issue we must face is how to get ready for that day. This life is just a puff of wind compared to our eternity. It’s my personal opinion that the way we live here on earth will determine our capacity to enjoy heaven. The time to begin living for God is now.
The Greatest Act of Love
What do you think about when you see a depiction of Christ on the cross? Most of us are overwhelmed by the physical and emotional suffering that He endured—the scourging, beating, thorns, nails, mocking, and shame. We are horrified at the cruelty of the Romans and the hard hearts of the Jewish rulers.
But during the crucifixion, far more was happening than the eye could see. God was carrying out His plan to rescue mankind, providing everything we need for salvation:
1. Redemption.Jesus paid the full price of the debt we owed for transgression: death. His payment set us free from bondage to sin.
2. Forgiveness. God could now release us from the punishment we deserved.
3. Propitiation. Christ’s payment satisfied
the Father by fulfilling His demand for justice while letting Him forgive us.
4. Justification. On the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice, the Lord now declares believers not guilty. Although we will still sin in this earthly life, our standing before God is one of righteousness. This is a legal declaration that can never be reversed.
5. Reconciliation. The sin barrier that separated us from the Father was removed by Christ’s death on our behalf. We’re now God’s children—we have open access to Him and fellowship with Him.
The crucifixion was the only way to rescue lost humanity. If there had been any other way, the cross would have been a grotesque display of divine cruelty. But because so much was at stake, it can truly be called the greatest act of love by both the Father and the Son.
Wisdom’s Benefit Package
When someone applies for a job, a common question is: “What does the benefit package include?” Since the world’s advice about how to have a good life is in sharp contrast to what the Bible recommends, we might want to consider asking a similar question about the value of living according to God’s wisdom: What arethe benefits? In other words, Why should we seek to live in obedience to the instructions given in the Scriptures?
First of all, in seeking God’s wisdom, we will acquire a deeper understanding and knowledge of the Lord (Prov. 22:4-6). Our perception of life is greatly enhanced when we know Him intimately. He’ll give us the ability to see ourselves, others, and situations from His perspective. As biblical principles permeate our minds, they will shape our thinking and responses to all of life’s situations and challenges.
Second, God promises divine guidance and protection if we walk wisely (vv. 7-10). Nothing outside His will can penetrate the shield of protection around those who seek to obey Him. When we let His wisdom enter our hearts, discretion watches over our desires and emotions, preventing us from entering into foolish or sinful relationships that would draw us away from Him (vv. 11-20).
Godly understanding and protection don’t become ours simply because we want them. Such benefits come to people who diligently seek divine wisdom. If you receive the words of Scripture and let them fill your heart and mind, the Lord will reveal Himself to you and give you His discernment.
Are you living thoughtfully and intentionally—or automatically? It’s so easy to get up each morning, do our work, enjoy some relaxation or entertainment, and fall into bed each night without giving any thought to God’s involvement in our lives. But to be ignorant of how He has blessed, guided, protected, and warned us is a foolish way to live. Just consider the benefits of keeping our spiritual eyes and ears open throughout the day.
Those who are aware of the Lord’s presence during their daily activities enjoy the peace of knowing that He is always in control and working to accomplish His good purposes. Every day’s experiences with Him teach them to know and love Him more.
When we learn to see God’s footprints in our days, we will become aware of the scope of His involvement in our lives. Maybe He strengthened you for a task or opened a door of opportunity. Perhaps He guided your decisions or helped you respond in a godly way to a difficult person.
If our ears are open to the Lord’s warnings and instructions, we won’t repeat the same mistakes again and again. But those who are deaf to His voice will continue in unhealthy thought patterns, negative emotions, and foolish responses.
Each night before you go to sleep, take some time to reflect on the day’s activities. The Lord is constantly with you, guarding and guiding your way. He wants you to see Him in everything and understand life from His perspective as you rely on His wisdom and power to face any challenge.
The Necessity of the Cross
What does the cross mean to you? Many people in the world today view it as a symbol of Christianity, but stop and think about what it represented in Christ’s day. Nobody wore a miniature cross around the neck or displayed one in a place of worship. The cross was a torturous means of execution, and the mere thought of it was repulsive.
Yet believers throughout the ages have chosen this as the sign of their faith. In fact, to remove the cross from our teaching and theology would leave nothing but an empty, powerless religion. The subjects of death, blood, and sacrifice have become unpopular in many churches because they’re unpleasant and uncomfortable topics. We’d prefer to hear about the love of God, not the suffering of Jesus.
But let me ask you this: How could anyone be saved if Christ had not been crucified? Some people think all you have to do to receive God’s forgiveness is ask Him for it. But a sinner’s request can never be the basis for His forgiveness. He would cease to be holy and just if no penalty was imposed for sin. According to Scripture, there can be no forgiveness without the shedding of blood (Heb. 9:22). Christ had to bear the punishment for our sin in order for God to grant us forgiveness.
Every time you see a cross, remember what it really was–an instrument of execution. Then thank Jesus that He was willing to be crucified so the Father could forgive you of sin. Though the scene of your redemption was horrendous, Christ turned the cross into a place of great triumph.
Where the Wrath and Love of God Meet
In our culture, sin is no longer considered an issue. Although some people might admit to making mistakes or being wrong, few will actually say, “I have sinned.” The Lord, however, takes sin very seriously. Until we learn to see transgression as He does, we will never understand what happened at Christ’s crucifixion.
The cross was God’s perfect answer to a terrible dilemma. Because the Lord is holy and just, He hates sin and must respond to it with punishment and wrath. Yet He also loves sinners and wants to be reconciled with them. The cross of Christ was the place where God’s wrath and love collided.
The only way to rescue fallen mankind from eternal punishment was to devise a plan whereby the Lord could forgive sins without compromising His holiness. There was no way to overlook transgressions; His wrath had to be poured out–either on us or a substitute. But there was only one possible substitute: the perfect Son of God.
So Jesus came to earth as a man and suffered the Lord’s wrath for us as He hung on the cross. Sin was punished, divine justice was satisfied, and now God could forgive mankind without compromising His character. His wrath was poured out on His Son so that His love and forgiveness could be lavished upon us.
Because of human limitations, we’ll never grasp all that happened while Jesus hung on the cross. We can begin to comprehend only the physical suffering He endured, but in the spiritual realm, Christ bore so much more–the very wrath of God. This costly redemption plan proves God’s great love.
The Believer’s Journey to the Cross
We all know that Jesus walked the road to Calvary, but did you know that believers also journey to the cross? We’ve all been positionally crucified with Christ, but those who hunger for Him participate in a deeper experience of this reality. Jesus lovingly takes their hand and leads them to the cross. Even though this is the last place anyone wants to go, it’s the only way to partake of God’s best for our lives.
The trip to the cross is not one you take with family and friends. It’s a lonely journey with just you and Jesus. He strips away everyone and everything you’ve depended on so that you’ll learn to rely only on Him. While we’re at the cross, He uncovers layer after layer of self-deception until we begin to see ourselves as He does. Soon our self-centeredness, inadequacy, and failures are laid bare.
The cross is a place of brokenness, but it’s necessary because there’s no other way we’ll ever bear fruit. If we hang onto our lives and refuse to take this journey, we’ll be like a grain of wheat that is never planted and never grows. But those who willingly die to themselves will produce an abundance of spiritual fruit. The only way Christ can live His life through us is if we’ve allowed ourselves to be crucified.
God doesn’t want you to be content with just your salvation. There’s so much more He desires to give you and accomplish through you. Are you willing to take the road to the cross with Him? Yes, it’s painful, but the rewards in this life and in eternity far outweigh any suffering you will experience.
Life’s Great Liberator
From some people’s countenance, we judge them to be happy. Smiles, makeup, and stylish clothing can create an appearance of inner peace. Internally, though, many are in bondage.
In today’s passage, Jesus clarifies His purpose: He has come to set free those in captivity. Christ was referring to several types of bonds that can imprison our souls.
First, Jesus breaks the chains of sin. All people have broken God’s law and consequently live apart from Him (Rom. 3:23). But Christ’s death and resurrection free us when we accept His gift of forgiveness and place our trust in Him. Then we can have a relationship with the Lord.
Secondly, He liberates us from persistent sins like jealousy, bitterness, and gluttony. His Spirit resides within each believer and provides the power to overcome wrong choices that seemed to “own” us. He enables us to do what He desires—by bringing immediate healing or by giving guidance and strength in the ongoing battle.
The Creator of mankind made us with a void in our hearts for Jesus to fill. Everything we put there—whether it seems like a good thing at the time or an obvious bad choice—will ultimately leave us empty. And we will remain in bondage until God frees us and then provides the only true satisfaction.
Are you one of those people who appear happy and seem to have life figured out, and yet inside feel uneasy and empty? Jesus Christ is the only One who can redeem you, forgive your sins, and fill the vacant place in your soul. Allow Him to liberate you today.
Acquiring Great Faith
I’ve had people tell me, “I wish that I had great faith.” While most of us would like God to just drop that kind of confidenceinto our laps, it’s not the way He operates. Faith increases as a result of our obediencein little things. We all marvel at Abraham’s willingness to offer up Isaac at the Lord’s command. But have you ever stopped to consider all of his smaller steps of submission that prepared the way for this enormous test?
Throughout his lifetime, Abraham obeyed God. At the Lord’s command, he left his country (Gen 12:1-4), was circumcised (17:10, 26), conceived Isaac in his old age (21:1-3), and sent his son Ishmael away (21:9-14). By the time he was asked to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, he already knew that his God would always be faithful to His promises. His previous experiences had taught Him to trust the Lord.
In the same way, each small step of obedience solidifies our confidence in God. Then, when He challenges us with a more difficult assignment, a firm foundation of assurance enables us to trust andobey Him. Great acts of faith flow from our past interactions with the Lord. By neglecting His simple commands, we miss priceless opportunities to witness His faithfulness.
Having trouble trusting God for something big? Maybe it’s because you’ve ignored those “small” and “insignificant” promptings of the Holy Spirit. The Lord considers each of His commands important and promises to reward every act of obedience, regardless of size. Great faith begins with little steps.