From my very earliest days as a Christian I understood the value of obedience to God. Over the years I have come to understand it to an even greater degree.
I have been guilty of playing that oh so familiar Christian game – I can’t hear you God, lalalalala. You know the one? That when you are asking God for guidance on a particular issue and He’s showing you what to do, but then you pretend that you’re not sure if it’s Him or not, so you go ahead and do what you wanted to in the first place. Of course, feeling very spiritual about the whole thing because you did ask God.
And how about the almost laughable number of times we have sung “I surrender all” or “Where He leads me I will follow” only to go about our lives as though we are perfectly entitled to make decisions based solely on our own desires, with no thought of asking God because surely He wants us to be happy, right?
I would never dream of telling God that my Yes had conditions. But my actions tell Him. Loudly. It is not the servant who says yes who is obedient, but the one who lives yes.
Several years ago I was at a retreat and in an intense moment in the worship service the worship leader said, “God wants you to sign on the dotted line.” That phrase impacted me so powerfully that I’ve not forgotten it. No conditions, no limitations. Just obedience. What a radical idea. I’m thinking that’s probably what the Lord has intended from His people all along.
For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. 1 Corinthians 6:20
CONCLUSION: It is time to find the joy of unconditional obedience
At first I felt sure this wouldn’t apply to me. But this was actually the most painful question for me to face. The issue at hand goes beyong the physical act. It includes how I present myself before a world of men who are in covenant with other women.
Our society is beauty conscious. Actually beauty obsessed might be a better word. For women, the message we receive from all varieties of media is that to be happy we must be beautiful. This is not good news to those of us who aren’t beautiful. So we spend hundreds and thousands of dollars on hair care, makeup, clothing and whatever else we can find to improve our appearance.
We learn how to use our appearance to our advantage and how to feel better about ourselves by attracting the attention of men. The right kind of look from a man can boost an insecure woman’s self esteem for days. But it’s all innocent, of course. And if I have dressed in a way to provoke a look, even possibly a lustful look – well, there’s no harm in a man looking, right?
I would have never thought of it as flirting with adultery until I considered this behavior in light of these words of Jesus:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28
If a man’s heart is filled with lust and he looks upon me with lust, he is merely following the evil desires of his heart. But if I have purposefully presented myself in a way that provokes lust in a man’s heart, I have become an accomplice in his heart adultery. I have aided him in dishonoring the covenant with his wife. I have become guilty.
And as hideous as this behavior is, how much worse when we bring it into the church and cause our brothers to stumble.
Must we continue to chase after the world’s standard of beauty? Have we not yet learned that if we want to truly beautify ourselves all that is necessary is to put on the Lord Jesus Christ? He is the only truly beautiful One.
May God help us all, as women of God, to focus on the beauty of a meek and gentle spirit which God values rather than the fading, temporary beauty that this world applauds.
CONCLUSION: Modesty – a God honoring and covenant honoring virtue I need to cultivate
I have just gone through the busiest year of my life and at times felt like I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I’ve always been known as a hard worker. One recognized for taking responsibility and making things happen. I’ve considered it the evidence of employer approval and appreciation to be entrusted with new responsibilities. So I keep adding more onto the already overflowing pile of things to do. To say no would be an admission of weakness. As a result I am forced, by my own pride, to work to the point of exhaustion.
I thought my busyness was an honorable thing. I was sacrificing myself nobly for my employer and clients. But my life was the most unfruitful it had been since becoming a believer.
This summer I took a week off for vacation and spent the time in quiet and stillness, prayerfully seeking some guidance from God for my now desperately miserable situation. As I sat before Him, He exposed my heart. The drive for success and affirmation in the workplace had replaced Him as being what was supremely valuable. My loyalty was misplaced and my priorities were wrong. And as a result I was utterly fruitless. It was a crushing realization. And one that has required change.
In John chapter 15 Jesus talks about fruitfulness. What is interesting is that He doesn’t mention fruitfulness in connection with work, but in connection with abiding. Abiding? That sounds too easy. But just as God has ordained that our salvation is completely His work, so is our fruitfulness.
No glory for me to achieve by my diligent efforts. No recognition of my hard work. Just waiting and yielding and abiding.
Nothing – “someone or something of no or slight value”
I spent many years feeling like I was nothing. Plagued by fears and insecurities, I contented myself with being unnoticed, unseen and unknown. Then I met Jesus and everything changed. He taught me not to elevate my view of myself, but to disregard my view of myself. I mean really, after you find out what Jesus has done to secure your salvation, what else really matters. This great salvation transformed my life.
Then an interesting thing happened. I got noticed by people in church who were in a position to give me opportunities to teach the Word of God to others. How unusual it seemed that people would know who I was. I liked it. Too much.
The day it all came to an end because of a change in leadership was a devastating blow to me. In one moment all doors of opportunity seemed to have been slammed shut in my face. I had experienced a small taste of being “a mighty woman of God” only to lose it all. And once again I felt like nothing.
For almost 2 years I mourned my loss of status, feeling rejected by God. With many tears I would manage to find my way to a place of acceptance and resignation to the events that had occurred, only to plummet once again to the depths of despair. It all seemed so unfair.
And even as I was focused on myself and my own feelings, the Lord was beginning to deal with my heart about why this thing had happened and why it was necessary. During those years of being something I had no idea how it was polluting my heart and tainting my relationship with Jesus. Not until it was all gone and I was finished mourning the loss of it did I see how truly gracious God had been to me. As I saw the mercy of God in bringing me back to nothing, my heart and my attention were drawn back to Him once again.
Being something was easy. Being nothing was a struggle. A long, tearful struggle. But now, many years later, I am incredibly thankful to be nothing again, because in this nothingness, Christ is all.
CONCLUSION: Jesus makes even nothingness a supreme blessing
Commonality engenders community. We see it in the gospels – the 2 blind men, the 10 lepers, the 2 demoniacs. They banded together in their common weakness, in their common struggle. No one could understand the substance of their existence in quite the same way as a fellow sufferer.
We all tend to gravitate towards those we have things in common with. It is with these people that we most enjoy sharing our time and sharing our lives. This just seems to be a principle of human nature.
As a Christian, I do find great joy in fellowship with other believers. But people are people, and even among believers there is the inevitability of finding certain brothers or sisters who “rub our fur backwards”. A few experiences with those who are emotionally needy or constantly engulfed in some sort of drama is enough to send me on a search for a solitary place in the wilderness where I can hibernate.
Most times, if given my preference I would prefer to be alone. Away from people’s problems and needs. Just me and Jesus – that suits me fine. But in my solitude, whose life am I pouring into? Who am I allowing to pour their life into me? The early church met daily. They shared meals together, prayed together, had Bible study together. The early church was an environment of community; helping each other, loving each other and sharing their lives with each other.
I struggle with this singular-ness often, many times justifying my excessive solitude because my activities are so spiritual. After all, what’s wrong with preferring Bible study and prayer to socializing?
What it all comes down to for me is selfishness. I want to spend my time on the things I enjoy, and I don’t always enjoy dealing with people. But Jesus died for the people and I am to love the people
CONCLUSION: Community must no longer be sacrificed for the sake of comfort.
An ally is defined as one that is associated with another as a helper.
I don’t think of fear as a helper. I have thought of fear in the negative – as a lack of faith, as not trusting God, but not as a helper. My brain totally rejects that idea as being illogical and counterproductive.
But there have been times when situations were beyond my control, with many unknowns and various possible dangers to those I loved. Knowing that these people did not know Christ and were living in a self destructive and hazardous lifestyle, there was the inevitable fear that something terrible would happen. Afraid of being caught off guard by tragedy, I would allow myself to be tormented by thoughts of the worst possible outcomes, images of scenario after gruesome scenario being projected upon the screen of my imagination. Then the unknown becomes the expected. And fear has helped me expect it.
Fear as a helper.
Trusting God when life is out of control is hard for me. I am the person who takes charge and makes things happen. I devise plans and ensure they are executed. I like to stay informed of what is planned for the future, so I can anticipate how it will affect me. The unknown is frightening for me. I cannot make a plan for the unknown. I can only wait for it to unfold, helpless to direct it. Fear rushes in to help me cope, but leaves me emotionally drained and spiritually empty.
Tragic things happen everyday to people all over the world. In our sin laden world it is impossible that our lives would not be touched with moments of grief. But where I always return is Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” All things.
Jesus never promised that He would reveal every detail of His plan to me. He never promised to tell me what tomorrow holds or to explain all the whys. But He has told me that He is good, that He is faithful, that He loves me and that He will never leave me.
I am a busy woman. I have many responsibilities. All day long at work I am dashing from one task to the next, desperately trying to complete all my tasks in what seems to be an unreasonably short amount of time. I finish one thing to move on to the next. Checking off to do list items, meeting deadlines, accomplishing goals. Everyday, all day long. There are always many things to do and no time to waste.
All too often this mentality spills over into my spiritual life as well. I read the Bible as though I am racing some unknown opponent. And should I happen to slow down long enough for God to speak to me through a portion of Scripture, rather than waiting and pondering on the verses until I have extracted every bit of meaning the Spirit of God is giving, I feel the pressure to get more reading done and hurry forward, leaving precious truths unrevealed. There is some little nagging thought that it is a waste of time to wait. God can tell me what He needs to tell me quickly, right? What if I stop and camp on this verse, when there’s some new discovery waiting in the next chapter?
Always hurrying from one thing to the next, I enjoy little. Thinking that I am being a good steward of my time by accomplishing great quantities of things, the frenzy of my soul shuts out the voice of God.
And the honest answer to my question is that although I would never say it, if I stopped to get quiet and wait on God every time I felt that He was trying to teach me something, I would feel as though I was wasting time that could be spent in “more productive” endeavors.
Always anxious for the next thing, I am missing out on the now thing.
CONCLUSION: God is not wasting my time. I am wasting my time.
Several weeks ago there was a women’s conference at our church. Alicia Chole spoke the first night of the conference and the title of her message was “7 Destiny Shaping Questions”. As she spoke on these 7 things, the weight of each one was impressed upon my heart and I felt as though the Lord would have me take these questions into prayer to hear what He would say to me regarding each one of them. This is what I have done for the last few weeks and I will be posting my answer to each question. I would encourage you to take these questions into prayer for yourself and if you would like, leave a comment sharing how the Lord has used these questions to speak to your heart as well.
“For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.” John 4:8
Certainly Jesus had no need of continual companionship for He dwelt in communion with the Father. But I have wondered after reading this verse, of the twelve disciples, was there not even one of them who thought his time better spent sitting with Jesus on the well in Samaria than running off with the other 11 to search for lunch? Could none of them see an opportunity for precious, private fellowship with Jesus? What questions might that one have gotten answered, what insights received, what mysteries revealed? What of the heart of Jesus might have been imparted in those moments?
It would seem that spending time with Christ would be the most naturally desirable thing for a believer. But alas, we are still firmly attached to this world and the distractions and amusements it offers. We can find 1,000 things to do rather than pray and seek the Lord, and in the process we deprive ourselves of our greatest delight – fellowship with the Savior. Though the 11 go seeking after the bread that perishes, I want to be the one who stays behind to feast on the Bread of Life.
My God, help me to push past the chaotic noise and frenzied busyness of this world. I have been guilty of buying in to the world’s ideas of pleasure and have at times entertained myself into spiritual apathy. Remind me again of the fullness of joy that is found in Your Presence.
A friend of mine has this phrase written on a card that she keeps on her refrigerator. It is one of those things that it is wise to be reminded of frequently. In our day comfort and convenience, self preservation and self gratification tend to be our focus. But Jesus has told us to deny self, take up our cross and follow Him. It is perfectly reasonable for Him to expect us to do this, for this is what He did for us. He not only took up His cross, He experienced it fully.
And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull, they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink. Matthew 27:33-34
Jesus could have taken advantage of the drink that was offered. It was a concoction designed to dull the sense of pain. It was the only bit of mercy He was shown during the whole ordeal. And He refused it. He had a different cup to drink – the cup of the Father’s will. This cup was a cup of pain, a cup of shame, a cup of wrath. And He didn’t shrink from the full experience of drinking this cup.
Often we are found to be seeking ways to rationalize our avoidance of the pain of a cross-ward life. And it goes something like this – If something is difficult or causes us to suffer, it can’t be from God, right? I mean, God is good and He loves us and wants us to be blessed.
Part of the problem is that we have an incomplete idea of what good is. For us, good means happy, healthy, and having everything we need (or want). For God, good means being conformed to the image of Christ. This is ultimate good and it is rarely a pain free process.
You may choose to leave the cross-ward path, however should you forsake the fellowship of His suffering and being conformed to His death, you also forfeit living in the power of a resurrected life.