Not yours

Do you need God to move in a big way in your life? Wait. That’s a silly question. Who doesn’t need God to move in a big way in their life? If you’re sitting there thinking that you don’t, then you really need God to move in a big way.

We all need God. And we all need Him to move in our lives. But most of us never really see God move in the ways we’d like him to. Jim Cymbala said in his book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, that he despaired at the thought that [his] life might slip by without seeing God show himself mightily on [his] behalf. What a sorry existence we live as Christians if we never really see God move in or through us.

So what does it take to see God move?

  • Individuals. A move of God starts when one person decides that they want more for their life than what their own plan can accomplish. It takes one person making the choice to put God’s plans ahead of their own.

The Lord was with Jehoshaphat because in his early years he walked in the ways his father David had followed. He did not consult the Baals but sought the God of his father and followed his commands father than the practices of Israel.

2 Chronicles 17:3-4 (NIV)

  • Leaders. A move of God requires leaders—those who have made the choice to put the plans and purposes of God above everything else—to stand up and encourage others to do the same.

As they set out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.”

2 Chronicles 20:20b

  • Families. If one person can make a decision, a family can make a difference. The entire nation of Israel was one family descended from Abraham. When they chose to walk in the ways of the Lord, God went before them and blessed everything they touched.

All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord.

2 Chronicles 20:13 (NIV)

  • Worship. Our response to God, His goodness, His faithfulness, His good plans for us, stirs His heart. God cannot move where He is not welcome and what better way to welcome His Spirit than to stand in an attitude of adoration?

After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:

“Give thanks to the Lord,
for his love endures forever.”

2 Chronicles 20:21 (NIV)

In the case of Jehoshaphat and the nation of Judah, God went ahead of the army and defeated the enemy for them. By the time the troops arrived on the battlefield, all that remained were dead bodies and so much plunder that it took three days to gather it all.

We may not be headed into a physical battle, but we are most certainly in a spiritual one. If we want God to move on our behalf, there are certain things required of us. The greatest of these things is the sacrifice of ourselves.

He must become greater; I must become less.

John 3:30 (NIV)

It’s hard to let go of our own wants and needs. Scary, even. But when we recognise God for who He is—a good God and a loving Father—it becomes easier to allow Him to set the course for us. And that is what we must do. God will move, but it will be in His direction, not ours. We must be committed and submitted to His will.

For the battle is not yours, but God’s.

2 Chronicles 20:15b (NIV)

Read: 2 Chronicles 20-22, John 16:1-15

Cheap and easy

Have you ever known another Christian who thinks you should do things for or give things to them just because you’re both Christians? Somewhere along the line, a lot of believers got it in their heads that everything should be cheap and easy. Free is even better. We’ve got this idea in our heads that it’s a blessing. Generally, it’s not. It’s cheap. It’s greedy. It’s unbecoming of a group of people who should be known for their generosity, not their ability to rip people off in the name of faith.

David, having grieved the Lord, was instructed to build an altar and offer a sacrifice at a certain place. That certain place was a threshing floor belonging to a man named Araunan. Araunan offered everything to David for free.

But the king replied to Araunan, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”

2 Samuel 24:24 (NIV)

David paid for the threshing floor, the wood for the fire, and the oxen to sacrifice. As the king, it probably didn’t break the bank. But he still refused to offer something to God that he didn’t have to pay for.

Centuries later, another sacrifice was required. Like David’s sin needed a sacrifice, our sin, too, needed a sacrifice. Only the payment for our sin was much greater than the purchase of a floor, wood, and ox. The payment required on our behalf was the life of God’s Son.

As Jesus prepared for what he knew he had to do, he let out one last agonising prayer.

Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

Luk 22:42 (NIV)

I cannot imagine the torment Jesus went through during that time in the garden. He knew the physical pain would be unbearable. He knew the weight of the sins of the world would be crushing. And he knew that he would forever be separated from his Father.

These are just two examples, in a book of many, that we are to emulate. Jesus taught on and lived a life of generosity. That practice continued in the early church as Paul writes to commend the church at Philippi.

Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only.

Philippians 4:15 (NIV)

Only one church of many understood the concept of generous giving. The point was not that Paul needed so much (even though he did), but that the church received far more because of their gifts.

Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.

Philippians 4:17-18 (NIV)

David could have very easily accepted the gift Araunan offered to him, but he knew that he needed to pay a price or the sacrifice would not have been his, but Araunan’s. Jesus, too, could have prayed that the cup be passed and stopped there. God may have even allowed it. But Jesus knew a price had to be paid. Paul could have sent the gifts back to Philippi since he had more than enough, but he knew that the church needed to give so that they could receive more.

You see, generosity is not something we should expect from others, but it is something we should expect of ourselves. How much value do you place in something that came cheap and easy? Compare that to something that you paid dearly for.

Someone may or may not have need of what you have to give, but you have far greater need for the space your sacrifice creates in your own life. If you want a blessing, you have to make room for it. If a gift costs you nothing to give, is it really worth giving? What does that say about you? What does that say to the person receiving the gift?

No matter who you give to or what you give, whether it be to the Lord, a brother or sister in Christ, or the homeless person on the street, give generously. Give faithfully. Give as though it’s the first gift you get to give and the last you’ll ever be able to give.

Read: 2 Samuel 23-24, Luke 22:31-53

A little more action, please.

It is an astonishingly low number of Christians who attend church with any regularity. Even the measure by which we base church attendance is startling—just three of every eight weeks (nineteen church visits annually). One study showed that just 20 percent professing Christians attend church “regularly”. What about the other 80 percent?

Sure, we can all come up with excuses as to why we don’t go to church. The kids had a ball game. It was a rough week, I needed the rest. Church is boring, there’s nothing there for me. I can serve Jesus at home as well as I can at church. Church is full of hypocrites. Have I hit home yet? I could keep going… But I won’t.

If we really break it down to the very root of the issue, most Christians aren’t in church on Sundays because they’re not willing to make the effort. Somehow, we’ve come to the conclusion that church needs to be like everything else—on demand, how we want it, when we want it, now!

But what about those very first believers? How did they feel about gathering together?

[Jesus] went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those trouble by evil spirits were cured.

Luke 6:17-18 (NIV)

How far are you willing to travel to go to church? How much time are you willing to spend in transit? If there’s traffic, do you decide to stay home and try again next week?

This account takes place near Capernaum. Do you know how far Jerusalem is from Capernaum? 164 kilometres. That’s about 34 hours of walking. Tyre and Sidon would be comparable in distance. The crowds that followed Jesus travelled great distances at great expense. And I hear people complain that a 14 kilometre car ride is too far to go to church.

So what’s the difference between those who followed Jesus as he walked the earth and us now?

Expectation. These people came to hear Jesus. They came to get close to him. They came to touch him. They came to get something from him.

…and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.

Luke 6:19 (NIV)

Excitement. Jesus caused a stir everywhere he went. Whether it was by contradicting the Pharisees or raising the dead, he gave the people something to talk about.

Evidence. Not only had people heard of Jesus’ message, but they had seen the evidence of it. Those who had experienced miracles by Jesus’ hand told others who told others who told others. The crowds knew that there was power and that it was a power that could change lives.

Without the first of these three, the second two don’t exist.

We must start with expectation. Very few people who go into church with the thought that it’s going to be another boring service are ever met with anything but. But the majority of those who walk into church expecting to meet Jesus there, do.

A little more action is required on our part. First, we need to get to church. Second, we go with the expectation that will we see God move. Third, we can’t give up.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)

This leads me to my final point. When we come with expectation, we will show excitement and see the evidence of our beliefs. When we do these things together as a group of believers, something else happens.

Encouragement. The more you stay away, the less likely you’ll be to return. But the more you show up, the more involved you get, the more relationships you make, the more you’ll want to be there.

There is more purpose in the local church and the gathering of believers together than I can even begin to discuss here, but I cannot stress enough the importance of it.

On your way to church this week (I hope you do go), look forward to it—no matter what did or didn’t happen last week. Expect to receive something from God. Engage with the people around you. Sing along to the music. Maybe even clap along or raise your hands. Pay attention to the words being spoken. Listen for that one thing you can hold on to through the week. Don’t rush off afterward. Ask to be prayed for or pray for someone. Smile and wave to people on your way out. Then try it again next week. Do it for a month. See if all those ideas about church are really true or were simply made true by your own attitude and expectations.

Read: Joshua 21-22, Luke 6:1-26

Lessons learned

There are many ways that people learn. Some learn in certain ways better than others or by a combination of methods. Some of these methods are:

  1. reading
  2. speaking
  3. hearing

I was homeschooled in my early years. Once I could read on my own, I could go off, read my lessons, and complete my assignments. I still love learning through reading.

Once I began public school, I learned that not everyone could be so easily self-taught. Some of my peers struggled through silent reading time. There were kids in my class who had to hear the lesson in order to retain the information. And there were students who had to repeat main points back to the teacher to ensure that they grasped the concept. And there were some still who used a combination of these things, as well as others, to learn.

In the days of Moses and Joshua, silent reading was almost unheard of. When the Book of the Law was read, it was read aloud.

Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

Joshua 1:8 (NIV)

Do you know that only 19 percent of churchgoing Christians read the Bible daily? (A Christian is considered to be churchgoing by attending church just 3 of 8 weeks.) It is no wonder that the Word of God has so little power in our lives.

Consider this, if every professing Christian were to read a portion of the Bible every day, how would you expect the world to change? If we all read the scriptures out loud, would there be even greater change?

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

Romans 10:17 (NIV)

If just over 7 percent of Christians read their Bibles daily, it is no wonder the church has lost its influence on society. It is no wonder we are perceived as weak hypocrites.

There is a reason why God was so emphatic about Joshua keeping the Book of the Law near him.

Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.

Joshua 1:7 (NIV)

Our success, both personally and as the body of Christ, I believe, is based entirely on our grasp of the Word of God. Most Christians have never seen a move of God. They don’t even know what it’s supposed to look like because they’ve never read or heard about it. The more I read about all that God has done, all the miracles Jesus performed, the power that came with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the more I crave those things. I yearn to see God move the way He did in the days of the early church.

Our mouths are required for a move of God. We need to open up our mouths and pray. We need to speak the Word of God with boldness and courage. We won’t see the Word come to pass until the Word passes our lips.

Read: Joshua 1-3, Luke 1:57-80

Overshadowed

Identity is one of the greatest issues in the world today. We all want to be our own person. Find ourselves. Discover who we really are. We want to identify as someone or something and identify with someone or something. We have made it life’s number one goal—right or wrong. And in all of our searching and identifying, we have completely lost our identity.

We know that Satan is incapable of creating anything. All he can do is take the good that God has made and pervert it until it no longer resembles what it was truly meant to be. Our identity is one of these things. If the devil can make us forget (or never even know) who we really are, he’s won.

A long time ago, a young girl made the choice to give up her own personal identity in order to take one on that would have everlasting repercussions.

The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.”

Luke 1:36 (NASB)

Most people today would balk at losing their identity. What did Mary do?

And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:38 (NASB)

Mary submitted her own will, her own identity, in order to be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit.

We often wonder why people no longer flock to churches and why religion as a whole is no longer popular in society. Could it be that we’ve lost our true identity? In search of ourselves, we’ve stepped out of the shadow of the Holy Spirit. We have made ourselves more important than our Creator. The world no longer sees Christ, they see us as individuals rather than the body we are called to be.

If we really want to make a difference in the world, we have to set ourselves and our own desires aside. Mary didn’t even hesitate to accept the angel Gabriel’s words. She would have known that, as an unmarried woman, she would be ostracised by her community and even mocked for her supposed infidelity. Standing in the face of great opposition, she still chose to stand in the shadow of the Almighty. Her acquiescence changed the world.

As Christians, our lives are not about our own personal identity. We don’t need to go searching for purpose or acceptance. Our identity is found wholly in Christ. He accepts us. He gives us purpose. It is not up to us to shine our own lights, but rather to be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit so that Jesus can shine.

Read: Deuteronomy 33-34, Luke 1:24-56

Honey

Read: Deuteronomy 26-27, Mark 15:1-26

Find a controversial news article—any one about politics this days will do—and scroll through the comments. You’ll find several things:

  1. The Lemming: This is a person who agrees wholeheartedly with whatever is set before them. They tend to be ignorant of actual facts, but fully prepared to jump on any bandwagon that passes by.
  2. The Tyrant: This person is angry at everything. It doesn’t matter if they agree with the issue or not, they’re mad about it and they will tell you about it.
  3. The Prayer Warrior: Responding only with phrases like, “Dear Sweet Jesus, come and heal our land,” this person garners distaste from believers and heathens alike. A great prayer, but relatively useless as a comment.
  4. The Peacekeeper: While neither agreeing or disagreeing with the matter at hand this person generally keeps a calm demeanor while attempting to rationally debate the issue.
  5. The Schmuck: This person doesn’t really care about much of anything but the number of responses they can attract. They argue for the sake of the argument, nothing more.
  6. The Minister: Like the Prayer Warrior, this person speaks fluent Christianese, but rather than “praying”, they quote scripture, speak of hellfire and brimstone, and then try to make converts of the Schmucks and Tyrants all while taking scripture out of context.

I’ve actually had to stop myself from reading through comments on stories I read. It gets me riled up and I could find myself in any one of these camps. But I don’t want to be associated with any of them. I don’t want to be a blind follower. I don’t want to be the person who is angry all the time. I don’t want to be the person that is so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. Keeping the peace is all fine and good, but I don’t think anyone has ever accomplished that online. I don’t want to be a schmuck (even the name sounds gross), and internet ministry has yet to start any revival that I know of.

This is not an article about being an internet missionary. This is a call to all Christians to take a look at the idea of how we are perceived by the unbelieving public. Even as a Christian, when I read comments from other well-meaning Christians, I often find myself scoffing—either at the fluff they spout or the anger they incite. A lot of what we say and do as Christians doesn’t translate well in text only. It’s not what we were called to do. And, even if the internet was around in Jesus’ day, I doubt very much that he would have set up all of his disciples with iPads at the bar top in a local Starbucks where they could troll news sites and reply to comments.

Lately, in response to some of the big issues that go against the core beliefs of Christianity, I have heard a great call to arms. A battle cry. But the problem with Christians who believe they are called to fight in the front lines is that they are, plain and simply, wrong.

A Bible school teacher of mine said this, “The greatest fight to faith is learning not to fight.”

Our fight is not against our fellow man, but against our spiritual enemy. Fighting against someone who disagrees with you will never win them to the faith. But if you fight that battle on your knees ahead of time and then go in peace, the results could be very different.

As you read through the Gospels, count how many times Jesus led a battle charge. I’ll give you a hint—none. (I don’t count the overturning-the-tables-in-the-temple because he was simply cleaning his house.) Jesus wasn’t interested in fighting. His ministry was one of love.

Even as he stood before Pilate accused of treason, he made no argument for himself.

But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

Mark 15:5 (NIV)

Jesus didn’t argue. He didn’t have three points with which he would overturn Pilate’s rule. Jesus didn’t make converts of those in power. Instead, he created a counterculture with the very lowliest of the low. He met the basic needs of the people. He touched the untouchable and loved the unlovable.

It was in concerning himself with the masses that Jesus became a concern to the leaders. He didn’t fight those in charge, but became a friend to those who weren’t.

If a Christian is someone who emulates Christ, the Church as a whole isn’t doing a very good job. When our focus shifts to fighting, we’ve lost our purpose and mission. If we Christians were known more for our love than for our arguments, perhaps more people would like to become one of us.

As the saying goes, you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar.

On trial

Read: Deuteronomy 11-13, Mark 13:1-13

I’ve never been on trial. I’ve never been to a trial. The closest I’ve been to trial is walking past the courthouse with my groceries. What I know of court and the process involved in a trial mostly comes from television. I take it all with a grain of salt because I assume that much of it is made to be much more dramatic than real life for the sake of cramming an entire case into forty-two minutes.

But one thing I do know is that, when a witness is to take the stand, a lawyer will prepare that witness. They will go over any and all questions that may be asked of them and refine responses in order to support a certain narrative and press a desired outcome.

Jesus has a discussion with his disciples about standing trial.

Mark 13-11

Notice he doesn’t say, “If you are arrested and brought to trial.” He says, “Whenever.” It’s a sure thing. This life we’ve been called to will most certainly earn us our day in front of a judge.

Right now, our judge is the rest of the world. Christians all around are being put on trial—both in the courtroom and out of it. We are being challenged on our faith and the very core of our beliefs. And the sad part is, in many instances, we’re losing our case.

Why? Because we’re not listening to our lawyer. He’s there prompting us, telling us what to say. Some of us ignore him or block him out. Others don’t even know he’s there, wanting to help.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him, But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

John 14:16-17 (NIV)

Counselor is another term for a lawyer, specifically a trial lawyer. So it makes sense that, if Jesus expected us to be on trial, he’d also provide the lawyer. Like anyone on trial, if we want to win, first we need to accept the help of our lawyer. Then we need to take our lawyer’s advice. He’s the expert. We’re not. In the case of our Counselor, the Holy Spirit, he actually speaks through us. If we let him.

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

John 14:26 (NIV)

Accepting Jesus is the first part of our Christian walk. Accepting the Holy Spirit ensures that we are able to continue that walk and stand firm.