Category Archives: obedience

on having wise expectations….

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterwards you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.

(Ps 73.23-26)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God….

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice….

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength…and my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

(Phil 4.4-6,8-9,11-13&19)

One of the most important lessons we can learn  as Christians is how to handle the bible wisely – in the sense of reading it with intelligence, taking advantage of the tools which are there to help us, and especially, of not taking things out of context! When Jesus was tempted by the devil, the latter used scripture to entice our Lord to act in certain ways. Jesus did not react in doubt or confusion, but used other parts of the word to counteract the false interpretation which was being put on God’s word. We must always be wary of letting verses or passages come to mean things in our minds which were not intended, and which can cause enormous problems for us.

This chapter in Philippians contains one of the most frequently quoted verses – and I believe one of the most easily misunderstood….Paul claims that he can “do all this through him who gives me strength”. What does he mean? Are we to understand that believers will be given power to do anything they like?

Look at the rest of the chapter, what is Paul talking about here? He is exhorting the believers to rejoice in God all the time – not necessarily in their difficult circumstances, but in the God who never abandons them and has plans to bless them. We are to give thanks for all the things about us that God says are true, and on that basis, to trust him to look after us – his beloved, redeemed, holy and equipped children.

We are to furnish our minds with all those things which are most characteristic of God, to take control of our thoughts and actively resist all that might pollute, distract and deceive us. This is never easy in a world where temptations abound, to indulgence and to despair; to self-dependency and pride. God calls us to remain loving, vulnerable, hopeful, available, humble, and obedient to him – drawn always by the beauty of Christ.

Finally, Paul exults in the gift of God which has enabled him to be content in every circumstance – the gift of faith in the God who will meet all his needs (not his wants!), so that his service of God may continue.

So what is Paul claiming that he can do by God’s strength? – rejoice in every circumstance; give thanks and pray about everything, trusting God to work in and through it; renew his thinking so that his mind increasingly mirrors Christ, and his words and life are transformed; enjoy contentment regardless of his wordly circumstances, because he believes that God will not withhold anything which is absolutely necessary (whether material, or spiritual resources). It’s quite a list!

With God’s strength, I can choose to dwell on the good qualities of those around me, loving them with God’s love, forgiving them as I have been forgiven, refusing to hold grudges and cherish bitterness.

With God’s strength, I can remain content in difficult situations – not necessarily finding it easy, but with deep assurance that God will enable me to do what Christ would do in that situation, and that whatever happens, God is at work to glorify himself and build his kingdom in and through me.

I am already the object of God’s deepest love, redeeming mercy and transforming power; the task in hand, of living for Christ in this sin-sick and broken world is daunting enough! Let me not seek power to do things beyond my calling, but be profoundly thankful that I am already receiving all I need for the great task which is mine – showing the world that God loves sinners, even such as I…

 

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How do I give…?

Praise awaits you, O God, in Zion; to you our vows will be fulfilled. O you who hear prayer, to you all men will come. When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions. Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple.

(Ps 65.1-4)

A generous person will prosper; one who refreshes others will themselves be refreshed.

(Prov 11.25)

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us..If [a person’s] gift is contributing to the needs of others, let them give generously…share with God’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.

(Rom 12.8&13)

Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each one should give what they have decided in their heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work…You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

(2Cor 9.6-8&11)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

(Eph 1.3)

The question is not “will I give?”, or even “what will I give?”, but rather “How will I give?”. I am rich in so many of the world’s good things, and have health and peace and security beyond the dreams of millions….what am I doing with them?

Am I tempted, like a miser, to hoard what I have for my own use – my space; my time; my energy; my intellect; my resources…because I am somehow worth it? As a follower of Jesus, one whose life is now under the sovereignty of the Lord of Life and King of Love, this is not an option! When I consider that everything I have is a free gift, part of God’s provision for His world, His church, it becomes clear that I have no right to hold onto anything He has given. I am merely a steward and the question is what kind?

So, I am commanded to give, to give generously – and cheerfully – of all I am and have for the blessing of God’s people and for his glory and work in the world. Some things are easier to give than others – less costly in terms of time, effort, privacy – but that doesn’t mean that I can put up a security fence around those things and refuse to part with them! Everything comes from God, the breath which keeps me alive, the beating heart which sustains my body, the mind which makes sense of it all; the family, friends and community which surrounds me; the money which buys food, clothes, insurance, fuel for the car, heating for the house. God asks me to withhold nothing from his service but to give when He asks, and gladly, how dare I hold back?!

So when I am called upon to set aside my schedule for the day in order to sit with someone who needs to be heard, I think of Christ, who always made time for people; when I forgo peace and privacy in order to give someone hospitality and invest in their refreshment and encouragement, I think of Christ who saw the needs of those around them and poured himself out in availability and vulnerability.

The testimony of God’s people down the years is clear, that when we give of ourselves and all we have received, we are more than repaid in the fellowship of the body of Christ, and in the joy of seeing God at work. This giving is a large part of our worship of God – a returning to Him in thanksgiving of the things we have received, and celebrating the privilege of using them in His service. Contrary to all that the world’s wisdom would tell us, Christ calls us to be poured out in service and giving, and to trust that here lies our true ‘self-fulfillment’. When a follower of Jesus loses ‘self’ in this way, we find our new ‘self’ within the body of Christ – an intimately connected, mutually enriching and enabling community where we are free to live, serve, love and be loved.

May we never forget to be thankful for all we have received, and to respond in obedient, trusting faith, by offering ourselves unreservedly and confidently for God to pour out in His work – let us be cheerful givers!

Serving in sending

Just as each of us has one body with many members…so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a person’s gift is…serving, let them serve;…if it is encouraging, let them encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let them give generously….Love must be sincere. …Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…Share with God’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality….

(Rom 12.4-8,9&12)

Dear friend, I am praying that all is well with you and that your body is as healthy as I know your soul is. Some of the brothers recently returned and made me very happy by telling me about your faithfulness and that you are living in the truth. I could have no greater joy than to hear that my children live in the truth.

Dear friend, you are doing a good work for God when you take care of the travelling teachers who are passing through, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church here of your friendship and your loving deeds. You do well to send them on their way in a manner that pleases God. For they are travelling for the Lord and accept nothing from those who are not Christians. So we ourselves should support them so that we may become partners with them for the truth.

(3 Jn 2-8)

I believe it is easy to underestimate the power of small things, of seemingly trivial or insignificant words and actions, but that when we harness them in the cause of the gospel, God is glorified and his kingdom enriched and advanced…what am I thinking of here? It is the ministry of hospitality, of sharing what we have in order to encourage and bless other members of the body of Christ.

If we are able to offer a place to sit, some food and drink, and the precious gift of a listening ear and a loving heart then we can serve one another in hospitality…it is one of the most basic and practical ways of loving and building one another up, of sending one another out in a ‘manner which pleases God’ as John said when he commended Gaius for his generosity. Whether or not we are able to contribute financially to the work of gospel ministry, of overseas mission or local outreach, we can all offer our presence, our homes, as an encouragement to God’s servants so that they go on their way strengthened and refreshed in spirit.

Such actions testify very practically to the unity of the church of Christ, as we welcome strangers and discover in them new brothers and sisters with whom we will spend eternity adoring our Lord and God. Our hospitality is a witness to our common life, and shows our non-believing neighbours and communities what it means for there to be no distinctions in God’s family. A willingness to share may prove the beginning of a lifelong friendship, or it may be that we never meet again this side of glory, but either way we have obeyed our Lord by offering what we have in the service of his people and kingdom.

Gaius offered hospitality and expected no return other than the approval of his Lord; but he was surely blessed and encouraged himself by the gentle commendation which John gives him, and also filled with gladness to know that his own faithful service has brought such joy to the old apostle! Do we not rejoice when those whom we revere in the service of Christ, those whose example inspires us, take time to commend and encourage us in our own obedience by saying how much they see in us of holy and Christlike living?

The devil loves to see Christians paralysed by self-doubt and condemnation, so John’s words were a strong weapon to release Gaius from doubts, and to inspire his ongoing service and obedience. We too can exercise this ministry for one another, taking the time for a message, a phone call, or a face-to-face conversation when we share how much a friend’s life and example speaks of Christ, showing his love and the transforming power of the Spirit.

As we partner with one another for the truth of Christ’s redeeming work, for the good news of hope and forgiveness, let us not neglect the ministry of encouragement – by our words and hospitality – so that the body might be strengthened in unity and God be glorified among his people.

Reality check..

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret – it only leads to evil.

(Ps 37.3-8)

Jesus said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

(Luke 9.22-26)

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things…Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord..It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

(Col 3.1&2, 23&24)

It is terribly easy to fall into the habit of selective reading of scripture, picking out those passages which make us feel comfortable and good about ourselves, and losing sight of fundamental truths which present a challenge to our thinking and acting.

Psalm 37 makes us feel good; we think about how God will give us our heart’s desires, and vindicate our good name, and it is reassuring! And then, the Holy Spirit prompts a recollection that this would have been one of Jesus own songs, one of his prayers too…..what did it look like for this to be fulfilled for him? He was the only perfect human being who ever lived, and therefore surely his cause was righteous, his desires were fulfilled and his way vindicated by God?

Our Lord delighted in God the Father, we read so many times of his prioritising time alone to pray and of his speaking of his love and obedience to God. And what did God give Christ? Hardship, foolish and faithless followers, persecution, injustice and finally an agonising, humiliating death. Jesus committed his way to God the Father, from his earliest days he sought to be about his Father’s business and publicly declared that everything he said and did was as directed by God. And his righteousness was despised, his name was blackened, and he was condemned as a criminal.

He was still before his accusers, he waited patiently through the agony of crucifixion to accomplish his allotted task, to achieve his desired end; he refrained from anger, and prayed forgiveness for his persecuters. His road to glorious and absolute victory led through what looked like abject failure and defeat…and he calls me, he calls you to follow him.

Our victory is assured in Christ, we cannot fall out of God’s loving grasp; but even as we will share in his future glory, so we are called now to share in his path of obedient self-denial and submission. God calls me to follow Jesus in doing the hard things, the painful things, the lonely, secret and insignificant things which are involved in dying to myself – a sacrifice which is for God’s eyes only, not to make a public performance or to win human praise.

My heart’s desire may truly be for the glory of God and the building of his kingdom, but am I really prepared for what that will mean in my own life? Being a follower of Jesus is not meant to be easy, smooth and comfortable – his path was none of those things! All those things which self clings to as its right – health, security, family and a good name – are disposable in the will of God, and I must hold them lightly, ready to yield them up if necessary with an obedient and willing spirit.

May God in his grace grant me his strength to do the work of dying to myself, that I might live for Christ; may the vision of the glorious and risen One draw me on steadily through my own path of self-denial, keeping me steady and full of hope that even as I share his sufferings, so also I will share in his glory.

 

One body, many gifts

Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength….Fear the Lord your God, serve him only…

(Deut 6.4&13)

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.

(Lev 19.18)

A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

(Jn 13.34&35)

For  just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve, if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

(Rom 12.4-8)

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them there are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

(1 Cor 12.4-7)

The church of Christ, the body of Christ, the family of faith….all different ways of expressing the community to which we belong as redeemed children of God – no longer living for our own ends, disconnected from one another, or unhealthily dependent on one another, but connected and deriving our essential life and purpose from one person – Jesus.

Our calling is to love God, and in doing so, to love one another – seeing in each other a glorious and infinitely precious child of God, saved as we all are by the blood of Christ. We are brought together in order to thrive – the individual parts of any living body do not last long in isolation, but dwindle and die – and together to demonstrate God’s radical, transforming kingdom in the midst of a world broken by sin and deeply shadowed by evil.

As in our human bodies, the whole can only thrive when the system works together, each part fulfilling its function, and united in a common goal. When we – as obedient and sincere followers of Jesus – seek to exercise the gifts we are given, then this must always be at the front of our thinking…what can I do to bless and build up this body of Christ? If my goal becomes my own satisfaction, or self-aggrandisement, status and fame, then I am not loving and not submitting to the directing of the Spirit. It may be that I have humble gifts..well and good! It is for God’s pleasure that I offer them, and for the good of others. It is not for me to envy the gifts of others, but to rejoice that God has provided for the needs of his church by distributing gifts across all his people.

Equally, it is not for me to expect that my service – whatever it may be – will look like other people’s service, nor that it will always take the same form. Our Lord looks for a loving, obedient and humble heart, an attitude of availability and surrender; then in different seasons of life and various contexts, our gifts will be exercised in different ways. Some may be called from an early age to teach, in public…well and good! Others may enter such service after years of exercising a private ministry of encouragement, finding that it has been preparing them for this next task. Some will readily and gladly accept the care of children, finding a life long satisfaction in that crucial task of nurture – while others can be part of that ministry for a time, and then find they are moving on.

How hard we find it at times not to compare ourselves with our brothers and sisters in the Lord, to imagine that unless we serve and exercise our strengths and gifts in certain ways, then we are disobeying his command. Let us strive to dismiss that internal voice, those insidious whisperings which come from the devil and aim to destroy our fellowship and derail our faith.

Am I truly desirous of obeying the Lord, humbly submitting my time and talents and money to his service, and open to remaining in a quiet, sometimes a hard place of obedience? Then surely he will be pleased to show me what the next task might be, and as I tackle it in his name, to grant me peace in doing his will. God grant that we might hold nothing back, but indeed love him with heart, soul, mind and strength, loving our neighbours as ourselves for his glory and the building up of his kingdom.

To do lists…

Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands are always with me and make me wiser than my enemies. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.

(Ps 119.97-99)

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.

(Rom 12.1)

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

(Gal 6.9&10)

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people..

(Eph 6.18)

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

(Col.3.23&24)

And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. ..always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

(1Thess.5.14-18)

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves….whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do.

(Jm 1.22&25)

One of the most insidious weapons which the devil uses against me – and very possibly against many other believers – is to play on my desire to glorify God in my life, my desire to become more like Jesus.

Does that sound like a contradiction? I can assure you it is not. This very good and proper thing – like so many other good things – can be manipulated and twisted into a weapon which disables the believer and causes them endless trouble. I know, because it happens to me so often.

The great love of God for me, his grace in forgiving and making me a child in his family, call forth a response of love, of a hunger to please him and show how much I value all that I have been given, and also how amazing he is. This is very right and proper…but then with a very clever twist, the devil gets me to begin thinking about just what that right response should look like in my life – what is the “right” thing to do here and now? For an over-thinker, a perfectionist, and one who hates to upset anyone, that question is a lethal, paralysing power that goes straight to my heart and destroys my peace.

Firstly, the list of things which we are called to ‘do’ in response to our calling as redeemed children of God is quite daunting – so much to be prayed(continually?!) for, so much scripture to be meditated on (day and night!); so many people in physical and spiritual need to be reached out and ministered to. How does anyone manage to hold down a full-time job, run a family, pursue their God-given talents and skills in recreation, as well as doing these things which are commanded? How can I hold conversations with people at the same time as praying continually? How can I study and write essays, or take part in meetings and make business decisions at the same time as meditating on scripture?

When I put it that way, you can see it is nonsense, and since God has called us to interact with people, to serve him in our labours, to be godly parents, spouses, siblings, then these things also must be right. But just how does it work in practice? Perhaps now you see why I described it as a ‘paralysing’ question?!

Secondly, when I begin to think about prayer and scripture meditation, about serving others and sharing the gospel, I am invariably overwhelmed by the awareness that I do none of these things ‘as well as other people’. That is a dangerous phrase – when you hear it in your thoughts, take warning and realise that the devil is needling at your peace of mind, at your acceptance as a child of God and perfect in his sight.

I do not have answers to this challenge, I live with the questions; what does God desire that I should do with the limited time, talents and opportunities he has given me?

But I take great comfort from the word given to the Colossians – “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…” – and from the sure knowledge that God sees my heart, and understands my weaknesses. Let me learn to trust his grace to be sufficient – I can never be ‘right’ in what I do, and that is ok with him, because his strength is made perfect, seen most clearly, in all the ways that he does things ‘right’, weaving all my best efforts into his beautiful whole.

The fruit of the spirit is….self-control

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid.

(Ps 56.3&4)

I will sing of your love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will sing praise. I will be careful to lead a blameless life – when will you come to me? I will walk in my house with blameless heart. I will set before my eyes no vile thing..My eyes will be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he whose walk is blameless will minister to me.

(Ps 101.1-3,6)

You are my portion, O Lord; I have promised to obey your words. I have sought your face with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise. I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes. I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands. though the wicked bind me with ropes, I will not forget your law. 

(Ps 119.57-61)

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me…

(Jn 14.1)

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit

(Rom 15.13)

It is easy to think of self-control as a quality of restraint, of holding back and NOT doing those things which might be harmful or otherwise ungodly – for us and for others. But there is also a proactive quality, the ability to steel oneself to do right things – even if they are hard, making us apprehensive of rejection and conflict.

In his final address which is recorded by John, Jesus commands his disciples not to let their hearts be troubled – and they go on to express profound uneasiness and trouble in the following verses! But when I read the words recently, I was struck by this element of command – do not ‘let’ your hearts be troubled…and the subsequent ‘trust in God’

Jesus speaks as though by actively pursuing trust, we can also actively obey the command to keep our hearts untroubled, no matter what we are facing. This can only be achieved by the power of the Spirit in us, reminding us of the promises of Jesus, of the riches of God’s love and provision for us, and above all, showing us that we are part of a great and glorious plan which is fully under God’s sovereign control. When we can trust that God is working all things together for his glory and our blessing, then our heart-troubles subside and we find peace.

This isn’t about some supreme teeth-gritted, fist-clenched effort which we have to make, but rather a steady cultivation of our thoughts and attitudes; a learning to trust first. When the spirit of Jesus within us is active, when we are working with him to feed our minds with the word of God, we are choosing to believe that word is doing us good. When we exercise self-control to make sure that our spiritual nourishment is not neglected, by meeting to pray with others, by worshipping together and hearing from the word, then we are giving ourselves the equipment we need to trust God, in all that may come to us.

We will undoubtedly face circumstances every day which will challenge the tranquility of our hearts – we live in a world which is so broken by sin and evil that it is impossible to avoid trouble, whether from within or without. But we can choose what we do with those troublings…either we put up no defence, and allow them to take up residence in our hearts and minds, dictating that we are driven by fear and anxiety; or we exercise the self-control which the spirit enables within us.

We choose to remember God’s promises; we choose to trust that he is good, and true and loving, and powerful; we bring our fears and troubles to him, and choose not to dwell on them. This is not self-hypnosis, but faith in action. By actively pursuing trust in the God who has revealed himself as supremely loving, and intimately caring towards us, we learn to stand secure amidst troubling circumstances – not because nothing bad may happen, but because God is in control of everything for his glory and our blessing