Today I was watching as a large bird was flying over the water, so close to the water that it seemed to be barely above it at times. This bird was on a mission, searching for it’s next meal. The victim would be a fish that was swimming close to the surface and easy to snatch up. The bird can’t go into the fish’s environment to get it so it has to wait until the fish is close enough to the bird’s own environment. And the unsuspecting fish hanging out in the shallows becomes dinner.
Shallow living is dangerous for the fish in water and the Christian on earth. We have an enemy who walks about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. For the believer safely abiding in Christ, the devil may not. But the believer who plays around in the shallows of this life rather than plunging deeply into intimacy with the Saviour, makes themselves an easy target as they live their lives on the fence called compromise. They venture so close to the enemy’s environment that he snatches them up in an unsuspecting moment and they find themselves a captive to some sin or other…never knowing they had been so vulnerable.
Go deep in God, believer. And then go deeper still.
The final portrait is your own and it remains unfinished. Each day it is being painted, moment by moment and choice by choice. With each rising of the sun you are given another opportunity to pour your life out for Jesus, to forsake all to follow Him, to count your life as not dear to yourself and to live boldly for the glory of Jesus alone. As His purchased possession, do we dare live unto ourselves? As His bride, why would we even want to?
So now… what will we do? Will we be satisfied with the safe and comfortable life, with church attendance, with a good work here and there? Can that possibly be enough? Or perhaps we will hear through these portraits from the past, the call to a passionate pursuit of Jesus – a pursuit that disregards the opinion of man, religious tradition and our own reputation. A pursuit that will no doubt lead us to the foot of the cross again and again and to a very real forsaking of all to follow Him. Oh that we might hear the call to run after Him with all our hearts and let our lives be poured out at His feet. Listen carefully… do you hear it now?
My soul follows hard after thee…Psalm 63:8
The apostle Paul was a man selected by Jesus to take the gospel to the Gentiles. Incredible miracles were performed through this man. He wrote two thirds of the New Testament, had visions of heaven and made disciples of Jesus everywhere he went. He threw away a respectable future in religion for the sake of a gospel that was hated by those whose favor he had once courted. And he never looked back. He was a man that walked with God. Yet as intimately as Paul knew the Lord, as he approached the end of his life his cry was “that I may know him.” His life had become a constant pursuit. His gaze was fixed upon One infinitely more glorious, more desirable, then anything he had known before and a glimpse of His glory had ignited a hunger and thirst within his soul that could not be quenched. And for the remainder of his life he was willing to suffer the greatest of hardships for the name of Jesus Christ and for the sake of His gospel.
The sinful woman was a well-known character in her town. The people whispered about her when she passed by. She tried to ignore them but mostly attempted to avoid them. There were a thousand reasons she could justify her lifestyle. Until that one day… and that one Man. She heard His words and they pierced her heart. Confronted with a God whose mercy was extended even to her, all the years of coldness and hardness of heart began to melt away. And in a moment, a glorious moment, she became a different woman. A forgiven woman. Her life was so transformed and her heart so full, that she searched Him out and found Him… at dinner with the religious folks. Certainly she knew the ridicule, the rejection she risked by approaching Him in such a setting, but she was compelled by love and a heart overflowing with gratitude to do it. And as they sneered and scorned, she wept at His feet the tears of the redeemed. The religious crowd hated her for her emotional display, but to Jesus it was precious and He memorialized her forever for it.
King David was a man elevated from shepherd boy to king. Not elevated by man, but hand chosen by God Himself. He experienced victory over all his enemies, fame throughout the nations, amassed great wealth, and enjoyed the goodwill of his people. Yet none of that satisfied him. Hear the longing of his heart:
”One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple.“ Psalm 27:4
If the temple had been in existence at that time David’s longing to dwell in the house of the Lord would have been more understandable. Who wouldn’t enjoy meeting with God amidst the ornate carving and abundance of gold in Solomon’s temple? But during the life of David there was no temple. The ark of God remained in a tabernacle of skins and curtains as it had done since the days of Moses. King David had built for himself a house of cedar, certainly something grand and palatial – suitable for a king. Yet his heart longed more intensely for the tent where God was than the comfort of his own dwelling.
Kings belong in palaces, not tents. Yet Almighty God dwelt in a tent, and that made it a palace to David.
Zacchaeus was a tax collector, a despised man, considered a traitor to his country. Among a thronging crowd of religious followers he would have been an unlikely and unwelcomed character. While he may not have had the good opinion of his fellow Jews, he certainly had everything else. Everything that money could buy anyway. But that was no longer enough Zacchaeus and maybe it hadn’t been for some time. One wonders if, at night when all was quiet, the emptiness of his soul was exposed. Desperate to see this Jesus he had heard of, he ignored the hateful glaring stares that were surely cast his way as he attempted to push through the crowd. Unable to get through, he went up. Up into a tree, undignified but determined. What a spectacle he made of himself that day. The little man in the tree! How the crowd must have laughed at him. But only for a moment, for when Jesus passed by He called him by name and came to his house for lunch and Zacchaeus had a feast of grace. Zacchaeus ended that day owning much less than when it began, yet now he possessed everything.
Mark 4:18-19 Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
The Amplified Bible says it like this:
The cares and anxieties of the world and distractions of the age and the pleasure and delight and false glamour and deceitfulness of riches and the craving and passionate desire for other things creep in and choke and suffocate the word and it becomes fruitless
These cares, distractions and desires don’t come rushing in. It says that they creep in….slowly, unnoticed at first. Only taking a little bit of time and attention at first….then a little bit more….until you find whole chunks of your life given over to these “other things” and every spiritual thing is crowded out. The enemy so often finds success when he works incrementally. This why the Scriptures tell us not to give place to the devil (Eph. 4:27). Not even a small place…..for he will take any small piece of your life/time/thoughts/activities that you might not be guarding, but rest assured that he will not rest with only that small part. He’s not seeking whom he may trifle with, but whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
Protect your life by staying close to Jesus. Be so utterly consumed with Him that there’s no room or opportunity for creeps.
Mark 3:14-15 Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons
When Jesus chose his 12 disciples he didn’t choose them so he could throw them out into the harvest for them to “figure it out”. It says it was appointed that they might be with him before He ever sent them out to do anything in ministry. I’m sure He taught them things from the Scriptures and taught them about the kingdom of God. But they needed more than knowledge. Earlier in the same chapter we see several instances of the Pharisees, with their exhaustive knowledge of the Scriptures, having no real understanding of the heart of God towards a lost and suffering humanity. They didn’t care that the miracle working power of God was present to heal the tormented and afflicted…because the traditions couldn’t be broken.
Jesus knew that before His disciples could ever labor for Him, they had to understand His mission. So they watched Him touch lepers and heal Gentiles and forgive adulteresses and rebuke Pharisees who looked on disapprovingly.
All our ministry will deteriorate into brittle religious ritual if it isn’t motivated and fueled by intimacy with Jesus. We were always meant to work WITH Him and not merely FOR Him.
Mark 1:40-45 Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction.
I can understand the excitement of the leper. Who knows how long it had been since he was even able to approach anyone to talk to them. Now he has been cleansed and all the limitations of leprosy have been removed. I can imagine that it must have felt nearly impossible to keep quiet about it. But Jesus had stated his purpose just a few verses prior to this incident:
Mark 1:38 But He said to them, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth.
This is what Jesus had planned to do but because the leper had done what he was told not to do, Jesus had to change His plans and instead of going into the city He had to stay outside in deserted places. I’m sure this ex-leper had no idea that it would cause such problems. But what it comes down to is this….He is to be obeyed even when it runs contrary to all our feelings and desires and when we don’t even understand why it’s necessary. The problem today is that everybody wants to be blessed, but few want to be obedient. We need to just do what He says.