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

If the world hates you

The world. Unredeemed society, estranged from God, held in the grip of sin and the evil one, blind to spiritual truth and hostile to those who have the life of God in them… Hostility is rooted in spiritual dissimilarity.

Everett F. Harrison, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary

More and more, it would seem, the world hates the Church. I don’t believe that it is so much because we carry a message of hate—our message is quite the opposite—but that they do not understand our message. It’s different than what they’ve been told to think. Talk to anyone who is militantly against faith in Christ. More often than not, they don’t even know why they carry so much anger or hatred nor do they know enough of the Bible to make any relevant argument against the faith.

As frustrating as this can be to Christians around the world, Jesus gave us fair warning.

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, That is why the world hates you.

John 15:18-19 (NIV)

People fear what they do not know and that fear can easily be turned into hatred. A child may claim that he hates all vegetables. As it is unlikely that he has tried every vegetable in existence, it can be assumed that their conclusion of dislike for all produce stems from either a bad experience with vegetables or a fear of the unknown. That which hasn’t been sampled can seem strange and different and uncomfortable.

The world’s ignorance is the true cause of its hatred to the disciples of Jesus. The clearer and fuller the discoveries of the grace and truth of Christ, the greater is our sin if we do not love him and believe in him.

Matthew Henry

The mention of Jesus, however, elicits a far stronger reaction than broccoli. Most people who claim to hate Jesus along with those who follow him really know nothing about him and what he really taught. Their opinions are often based on hearsay or that one bad experience. Because we don’t share common values or beliefs, we all become like vegetables—hated for no other reason than being a vegetable, or in our case, Christians.

There are those who believe that, if Christians would just act more like the rest of the world, it would be better. Wrong. It wouldn’t be better. Jesus called us out of the world. We shouldn’t look like the world. That’s like a mother mashing cauliflower and carrots into the potatoes to make her kid eat vegetables. Sure, the cauliflower is still cauliflower and the carrots are still carrots, but they’ve been blended in with the potatoes so much, you can no longer tell what’s what. The original substance, texture, shape, and flavour has all been lost.

How did Jesus respond to the haters? He loved them. It is our love for one another and our love for the world that sets us apart.

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Luke 6:27-31 (NIV)

Read: 2 Chronicles 17-19, John 15

John and Paul

In 1967, John Lennon and Paul McCartney loudly declared that All You Need Is Love. And those words changed the world. They were a key part of a cultural revolution (they sang about that, too). They may not have gone about it the right way, but they weren’t entirely wrong.

Thousands of years before guitars got plugged in and a hairdo was referred to as a mop-top, Another John and another Paul spoke of a different kind of love that would change the world.

The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends to the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.

John 3:29-30 (NIV)

John, Jesus’ cousin, was known for baptising people. Some of his followers were a little upset when Jesus also began baptising. And there were more people in Jesus’ lineup on the shore than in John’s. Rather than joining the jealous conversation, John explained that now that Jesus had shown up and stepped up, his job was pretty much done. His entire purpose was to point people toward Jesus. And because people were going to Jesus, his purpose and his joy were made complete. His time was over. Jesus’ had begun.

If you have any encouragements from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.

Philippians 2:1-2 (NIV)

Just as John was filled with joy at people following Jesus, Paul’s joy was made complete when the believers acted in one accord, displaying the attributes of Christ.

Lennon and McCartney may have landed on some very profound truths in their lyrics, but without ever knowing the true power behind those words, they are void of life. All of the focus was on the men behind the microphones.

The Baptist and The Apostle also landed on some very profound truths in their words. The difference here is that they both pointed the attention away from themselves and toward Jesus—the fulfillment of their proclamations.

The glory does not belong to us, but to Christ. All that we do should be a reflection of him and only serve to point others toward the cross. If all you need is love, love can be found in Christ at the foot of the cross. When you find Christ, your joy will also be complete.

Read: 2 Kings 1-3, John 3:22-36

The verdict

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved the darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done was been done through God.

John 3:19-21 (NIV)

A verdict, according to Noah Webster, is a decision, a judgment, an opinion pronounced. Jesus proclaimed a verdict. He declared that something like no other had come into the world. Webster also said this of light:

This word furnishes a full and distinct explanation of the original sense of light, to throw, to dart, shoot or break forth. [Light is] that ethereal agent or matter which makes objects perceptible to the sense of seeing, but the particles of which are separately invisible. It is now generally believed that light is a fluid, or real matter, existing independent of other substances, with properties peculiar to itself.

I was sitting in a meeting with my pastor the other day and the power went out. For a while we were able to continue using our laptops and tablets on battery, but as evening progressed, the room got darker and darker. The atmosphere changed in the absence of light. We looked at things differently as we continued our discussion in the dark.

The detection of light is a very powerful tool for probing the universe around us. As light interacts with matter it can be become altered and by studying light that has originated or interacted with matter, many of the properties of that matter can be determined.

What is Light, www.andor.com

Isn’t it amazing how a scientific explanation reaffirms what the Bible said thousands of years ago? When light interacts with matter, we can learn stuff about that matter. When the Light interacts with people, it says something about us.

When God introduced light into the universe, it was not the sun or any other star. He introduced His own Son, and in him was life, and that light was the light of men (John 1:4). Without Jesus first being sent out, life would not exist. We cannot exist without light.

Naturally speaking, a person may not die strictly due to a lack of light, but other issues caused by perpetual darkness can lead to serious illness or death. Benefits of natural light include:

  • boosting vitamin D storage, which helps absorb calcium and can aid in the prevention of certain types of cancer;
  • higher productivity;
  • healthier vision;
  • better sleep;
  • mood improvement.

If our physical bodies were created with a need for natural light, wouldn’t it stand to reason that our spiritual bodies were also created with a need for Light? Our bodies thrive when the sun comes out. Our spirits thrive when the Son comes out.

So what’s your verdict? Do you hate the Light and do evil or do you love the Light and do good? Like a trial in the court of law, there can only be two choices when it comes to a verdict, guilty or innocent. Evil or good? Dark or Light?

Read: 1 Kings 21-22, John 3:1-21

Suck it up, Buttercup

Feelings are good. They can let us know when things are okay or bad or scary or wonderful. Some would have us believe that we should be ruled entirely by our feelings. We should always feel safe. We should never feel threatened. We always have a right to feel whatever we want to feel and express those feelings however we choose. And how is that working out for us?

Even King David, upon learning of the death of his son Absalom, had a moment when he let his feelings overtake him. He retreated to his safe space. And you know what that earned him? A big, fat lecture from the leader of his military.

The king covered his face and cried aloud, “O my son, Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Then Joab when into the house of the king and said, “Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines. You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead. Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the Lord that if you don’t go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come upon you from you youth till now.”

2 Samuel 19:4-7 (NIV)

Ouch! Who would be brave enough to tell a king to get off his butt, wipe the tears off his face, and congratulate the army that killed his son? From David’s perspective of intense grief, one may say that Joab was overly harsh with his king. What right did he have to say what he did in the manner he said it? Was David not allowed to mourn for his son?

Had David chosen to put his feelings first and wallow in his grief, it would have cost him the kingdom that had just been saved. Instead of closing the door on Joab, David heeded his commander’s advice.

So the king got up and took his seat in the gateway. When the men were told, “The king is sitting in the gateway,” they all came before him.

2 Samuel 19:8 (NIV)

We are all entitled to our feelings, but our feelings are not entitled to rule us unless we allow them to. God gave us feelings. He gave us the ability to rejoice and to grieve. He made us to be glad as well as sad. But He also gave us dominion. To be ruled by our feelings is to look solely on our inward selves. To give in to every feeling with the unction to express every little emotion that comes upon us is to become utterly selfish.

Was David selfish in wanting to grieve for his son? No. But in his grief, he stole the joy of victory from his men. They thought they had done well in restoring the kingdom to its rightful ruler. But instead of a pat on the back, all they saw was David’s back as he turned to mourn the death of his enemy.

While we should welcome feelings and emotions, we cannot be entirely ruled by them. Sometimes how we feel must take a back seat to what we must do. Sometimes we have to suck it up and do what is best for the greater good rather than our own good.

Take a page out of David’s book, literally. He learned to channel his feelings and emotions, pouring them out to God in the pages we now know as the Psalms. There, the shepherd boy who became a king, let it all out. He figured out how to handle his emotions while balancing them with the responsibilities of ruling God’s chosen people. He learned humility above all.

My heart is not proud, O Lord,
my eyes are not haughty
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

Psalm 131 (NIV)

Read: 2 Samuel 19-20, Luke 21:20-38 

Tainted love

Ask just about anyone on the street and they’ll tell you that you should be able to love whoever you want however you want. It doesn’t hurt anyone. Do what makes you feel good. Love is love.

In the course of time, Amnon, son of David fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom, son of David.

2 Samuel 13:1 (NIV)

So what if Amnon loves Tamar? He should be able to love whoever he wants! Right? Well, if Tamar is the sister of a son of David and Amnon is a son of David, doesn’t that make Tamar, at the very least, his half sister? Not so lovely to love now, is it? But that didn’t matter to Amnon. He had to have Tamar no matter what. He loved her after all. He deserved to have her love him back.

So he came up with a plan to lure Tamar into his bedroom. Because Amnon was her brother, Tamar figured she was safe. Until Amnon made a completely inappropriate pass at her. She tried to fight him off.

But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.

Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her. Amnon said to her, “Get up and get out!”

2 Samuel 13:14-15 (NIV)

Amnon, in his obsession assumed that, by having what he wanted, his needs would be satisfied. Instead, his passions were reversed.

Aren’t we like that sometimes? We can obsess over something, love something, want something so bad that we are willing to do almost anything to get it. We should be able to love whoever or whatever we want, shouldn’t we? If it makes us happy, shouldn’t we do what we can to get it?

Just because we want something doesn’t mean we should have it. It doesn’t mean it’s good for us to have it. It doesn’t mean it’s ours to have. And it rarely means what we think it will mean.

During the hippie era, free love was the fad. In recent years it’s #LoveWins. We are constantly being told that if it feels good, do it. Love what you love. You can’t help who you love. In all of the noise, we as believers must remind ourselves of what love really is. We must recognise that the world, who has rejected Jesus and the God who is love, cannot really know or experience true love unless they acknowledge the single greatest act of love in the history of humankind.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (NIV)

That is what love looks like. It certainly wasn’t the thing Jesus wanted most. It didn’t feel good. It didn’t cater to his wants or desires nor did it fulfill any fantasies.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a (NIV)

Amnon’s tainted idea of what love was fell short of nearly every point Paul made regarding love in his letter to the church at Corinth. His love for Tamar was all about himself. The love Christ calls us to has nothing to do with our own satisfaction, but is all about others.

Read: 2 Samuel 13-14, Luke 20:1-26

Teach me

Once upon a time, The Lord’s Prayer was prayed in schools across North America. Children learned it and recited it with regularity. And, while there is surely much argument surrounding such a practice, it certainly made our schools and our nation a better place for it.

Because it was something many of us learned as children, we are often wont to think of the words as childish. Something simple, for kids. We lump it into the category of milk rather than meat. But that was not at all Jesus’ intent.

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

Luke 11:1 (NIV)

Jesus responded to this request with what we have termed, The Lord’s Prayer. There is nothing immature or childish about the method Jesus gave to his disciples. These men were no longer new and immature followers. They had already been sent out on missionary journeys and had been healing and casting out demons in Jesus’ name.

“Lord, teach us to pray,” is a good prayer, and a very needful one, for Jesus Christ only can teach us, by his word and Spirit, how to pray. Lord, teach me what it is to pray; Lord, stir up and quicken me to the duty; Lord, direct me what to pray for; teach me what I should say.

Matthew Henry

I can’t begin to count the number of times I have heard believers (not even new ones) say that they don’t know how to pray or they don’t know what to pray. And I can probably count on one hand the number of times someone has offered them the prayer that Jesus offered to his disciples.

Childish as it may seem to us, The Lord’s Prayer encompasses all we need as believers: a reminder of God as our Father and His holiness, the will for His kingdom to come to earth, the request that our daily needs be provided for, the forgiveness of our own sins along with the aid needed to forgive others, and a way out of the temptation we will surely find ourselves in.

Perhaps if we stopped trying to act like we think mature believers should act and start acting as the children of God we are, we as the Church, might find ourselves in a more advantageous position.

I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.

Luke 18:17 (NIV)

There is no shame in asking for help when we think we need it (and even when we don’t). When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, they were not rebuked, but given words for life. My grandfather, a great minister of the Gospel until the day he moved to heaven, once said in a message that the one word God loves to hear from us is a four-letter word.

H-E-L-P!

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but one of strength. It takes courage to admit when we are not capable of doing something on our own. And God, in His love and mercy, will always be faithful to come to our aid.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

Romans 8:26 (NIV)

So today, if you don’t know what to pray (or even if you do), start with Jesus’ example. Pray the prayer he gave us. Don’t just say it by rote, really pray it. Think about the words and the power within them. Ask Jesus to teach you what it is to pray.

Read: Judges 20-21, Luke 11:1-28