Regular faith allows us to look back at past unpleasant times and say "God, I see now that you were teaching me and growing me. I understand now at least part of what you were doing. Thank you." Great faith allows us to look at current unpleasant times and say "God, I guess you are teaching me and growing me. Keep it up until I have learned all I need to learn. Thank you!" Somewhere I read "Faith and obedience will remove mountains of evil. But they must go hand in hand." I like this thought, but is faith without obedience really faith? The primary purpose of strong faith in God is not so that He can do more work through me, but so that He can do more work in me. My lack of faith hinders my effectiveness as his servant and it also blocks my becoming like him. I do not need to develop a plan for my life...month...week...day...hour. Instead I need to discover God's plan, which has been in existence for thousands of years. I need the faith to believe his plan is better than mine and the courage to put it into practice. Faith says to God "If it is your will I will attempt the impossible and accept the uncomfortable."
The episode on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-36) is beautiful to me because it is so instructive. Just a week before, these two men believed they had found in Jesus the answer to all their political and spiritual questions. But their hopes that He would "redeem Israel" had been dashed. They were confused and disappointed followers of Jesus. (Don't know about you, but I've been there and done that.) But Jesus specifically and intentionally went to them in their struggle. (And He finds me in mine.) After walking with them for awhile He started to leave them with only a partial understanding. They asked for more teaching and He obliged. (He gives me more when I ask.) In verse 27 Jesus used the scriptures to teach about himself. What Scriptures? The Old Testament, because that is all they had. I would love to have been there and heard Jesus tell about himself and his relationship to those Old Testament writers. He could have said "I know exactly what Isaiah and David meant because I was right there with them when they wrote those words." That is really teaching with authority..." (Mark 1:22) And then they went and told others.
If I apply Paul’s “I can do all things through Christ…” (Philippians 4:13) to my life, it means I can run errands for a shut-in neighbor and then sit and listen for the hundredth time as she recounts her memories of childhood. It means I can ladle soup in a homeless shelter. It means I can baby sit for a single mother while she goes grocery shopping. It means I can take a four-hour shift beside the ICU bed of a relative I hardly know and do not particularly like. It means I can share Jesus on a bench at Wal Mart. It means I can forgive completely. It mean I can show love to those who criticize me.
Any time my pastor or other church leader asks me to do something I must never say “I can’t” without first asking God if He wants me to. When I am following his will the answer “I don’t want to” is not an option, unless I immediately say “But I’ll do it if He wants me to.” In the Philippians verse the words “through Christ” are the key to life application. If, as I pray, I am led to believe God does not want me to do it I may say “I won’t” but I must never say “I can’t”.
In Matthew 5:20 Jesus called his disciples to a spiritual level higher than that of their religious leaders. He was asking the disciples to grow beyond those who led their times of worship and taught in their synagogues.
To the disciples this must have sounded impossible. Those religious leaders very carefully followed the law of Moses and the many interpretations thereof. They were the theologians and seminary professors of their day. They wrote the Sunday School literature and scriptural commentaries. They tithed, attended all the festivals, gave special offerings, prayed three times every day, fasted several times each year, and sacrificed at the correct times and in the appropriate manner. How could these “working stiffs” ever exceed such righteousness?
They could love their neighbors!
Jesus did not fault the actions of these leaders. Their actions were impeccable. But He knew their hearts (Luke16:15). He called his followers to a set of attitudes that were more pleasing to the Father. He called them to love others.
If God were to call us to judgement today, would we want him to judge us on our actions or our attitudes? Which come closer to the meeting his standards?
What should be our primary attitude toward God? Love! (Matthew 22:37)
What should be our primary attitude toward people? Love! (Matthew 22:39)
What actions should we take to show God we love Him? Obey Him! (John 14:15)
What actions should we take to show others we love them? Serve them! (John 13:4-5)
It is the king's right to command and the servant's duty to obey. Why was Jesus born a king? Because His father owned the kingdom. Obedience must be attitude as well as actions. I must be as willing to serve God as I am to worship Him. Partial obedience to God is disobedience to God. If I become more like God I will behave more like Jesus. I am not a great servant of God, but I am the servant of a great God. Obedience to God, without a close relationship to God, produces Pharisees. God's future blessings to me depend largely on how much I have shared His past blessings. It is more important that we talk to God than about God.
One of the most attractive aspects of Christianity, one of the most cherished promises of Scripture, is in 1Peter 5:7 (Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.) Over and over , we go to the Lord in prayer, acknowledging that the cares of our life are over-whelming. To the best of our ability, we follow the instruction of this verse and give God our concerns.
And, faithful to His word, He lifts those burdens from us. He allows us to continue our daily life with optimism and freedom from fear.
Then our daily prayers can begin and end with expressions of gratitude for this load-lifting, burden-removing promise. We praise Him, privately and publicly, for His faithfulness.
But Galatians 6:2 puts new light on burden-sharing when Paul tells us we are to “Bear ye one another’s burdens.”
Burden-sharing is to be horizontal as well as vertical. Just as the Father helps us carry our load, we are instructed to help others carry the weights their life has given them. Our motive for this should be our love for them. Our willingness should be indicated by an attitude and question of “May I help you?” toward everyone we meet…and really mean it.
We hesitate to become burden bearers because we fear we will be overwhelmed by the load someone might pass to us. We don’t trust Paul’s assurance that “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13). Such lack of faith often prevents from being obedient to his command.
We must learn to trust that our Father will not give us a heavier load of our burdens, or the burdens of others, than we can carry with His help.
How important is intercessory prayer? Do our prayers for others actually help?
Study Jesus in Gethsemane (Matt 26:35-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46). In His time of greatest agony He asked his friends to pray for Him. Think of it. The God who created all the universe was hurting so much He asked for the prayers of his closest friends.
But before He asked for their prayers, He asked for their companionship. He asked them to go a little farther, stay awake a little longer, pay a little more attention, give a little more of their energy and time on his behalf.
And they did so, for awhile. Then they went to sleep.
All too often we say to a hurting neighbor or acquaintance “I’m sorry things are so tough for you right now. I’ll keep you in my prayers.” Then we turn and walk away, unwilling to give a bit our our time and energy to help ease their pain. Our lack of action shows how we refuse to let the problems of others intrude on our own comfort zone.
Oh, such prayers do help, if we actually remember them. We can certainly be of assistance by praying. But if we, like the disciples, are called on to go a little farther and give practical aid and comfort, are we willing to do so? In our Christian growth have we allowed God to develop in us a sense of “disruptive compassion” – the willingness to let the needs of others disrupt our normal pattern of life?
Dear Father, from this moment on, for all eternity, I give you control of All my houses, all my land, all my hopes, all my plans. All my pleasures, all my fears, all my joys, all my tears. Where I go, where I stay, what I hear, what I say. What I eat, what I drink, what I like, what I think. What I give, what I keep, when I work, when I sleep. Where I shop, what I buy, how I live, when I die. What I wear, how I look, what I text, what I cook. When I pray, when I sing, when to let go, when to cling. All my strength, all my health, all my pleasures, all my wealth. What I do, what I see, what I let bother me. When I stand, when I bend, when I back away from friends. When I whisper, when I shout, when I quietly "back out". What I hate, what I love, when to talk to you above. How to serve and obey every moment of each day. All things tiny, all things grand, things I do not understand. In my life, Lord, take control of my body, mind and soul.
They don't want to know about our preacher. They don't really care about our teachers. They're not concerned about our parking lot. They don't care how many elders we've got. The don't care about the size of our choir. They don't ask "How tall is your spire?" They just want to know, "Do you love me?" They don't care about our preacher's degree, Or if the donuts and coffee are free. They don't care about our building's size, Or if our deacons are gals or guys. They don't care about our recreation, Or our theology of creation. They just want to know, "Do you love me?" So when they come to visit us here We must meet them with a smile or a tear. Quietly, sincerely without a fuss, Let them know they're important to us. A pat on the back. A "We're glad you're here." Will help us make it completely clear, That without any doubt, we love them.
In John 10:14 Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own sheep…” When He told Peter to feed the sheep, He was giving Peter the responsibility for the care and feeding of the flock.
The sheep belonged to Jesus. He had a personal relationship with each of them. He knew them by name and He loved them . But his earthly ministry was almost over and He was passing the shepherd’s staff to Peter.
He did not ask Peter if he wanted to be a shepherd. He simply gave Peter an assignment He knew was within Peter’s capability. Because Peter loved his savior he was expected to be obedient to the task.
God calls each of his children to help tend his sheep. He intends for each of us to help care for a flock and each of us to receive care from someone else. Such interdependence among Christians will result in the effective spreading of the gospel.
As we each give and receive care, God is glorified in our lives. If we choose not to perform our shepherd’s duties, others suffer. If we refuse to listen to the guidance of the Good Shepherd, we suffer.
Our motive for being a shepherd must be our love for him. We must love others because He loves us. We must serve others because He served us. We must give our time and energy to others because He gave his life for us.
It is dangerous for us to try to serve those He has put into our care if we do not love them. We are likely to become discouraged, resentful and angry. Such emotions disrupt our relationship with him.
It is dangerous for the flock because our attitude will lead them away from him and the blessings He has for them. They will sense our insincerity and rebel against his leadership.
We must always remember they are his sheep, not ours. We must love and feed them because we love him.