“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”. (Col 3 v 17)
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil 2 v 3)
This issue of serving seems to have cropped up quite a lot lately…(God, are you trying to tell me something??!!) And a comment was made the other day during one of our church services that we need to put that statistic of 20%:80% to bed, specifically in the church context. It should not be that 20% of the church do most of the work while 80% are simply ‘pew-warmers’. Now while I agree with this statement, the reality is that you can’t force people to serve…even Christians!
This is because an attitude of serving comes out of a place of love and gratitude towards God for what He has done for us. We can’t motivate serving through guilt and judgement. That way only breeds resentment, rebellion and a bad attitude. It can also result in feelings of condemnation. None of those reasons provide a good foundation for lasting service. And when people operated out of those places, they eventually feel ‘enough is enough’ and stop serving. The desire to serve has to come from a place of gratitude and that can only happen when a person comes to the realisation of how amazing and loving and merciful God is. It also requires that person to see themselves properly, through God’s eyes, and consider themselves as a person of worth and therefore worthy to serve this great King of ours. And that, I’m afraid, is God’s job to sort out. The changing of hearts and minds, regrettably (!!), is not part of our skill set!
Now I’m not saying that we can’t encourage people to serve. I do feel, and especially as parents, that we have a responsibility to do so and, if possible, provide opportunities for people, and our children, to serve. But we need to realise that, at the end of the day, the decision and responsibility to continue to serving (or even start serving at all!) lies with them. My boys are now both at university (and out of my clutches!) and now it’s up to them to continue developing that serving attitude. I can no longer control the situation or them. Obviously, as parents, a good way to motivate and encourage our children to serve is by being an example and actually serving ourselves…..and, I challenge myself too, not just in the ‘nice’ jobs! Children are greatly influenced by their parents’ actions and words. But, once they leave home, they become responsible for their own actions and for their own acts of service. An interesting thing to notice is whether your child (or anyone for that matter) is motivated to serve only when they receive encouragement and appreciation, i.e., do they feel the need to give up serving in a particular area because no-one has acknowledged their efforts or shown appreciation for them in that area of service….Which brings me to my next point…
I feel (and this is my own opinion, not a biblical truth!!) that serving comes in two forms: purpose-filled service and obedience-lead service. And we should be involved in both types of service because if you have a serving attitude, then you are motivated to serve in both ways. Let me explain the difference…
Purpose-filled service is when you serve in an area in which you feel God has called you to serve in. It’s what you feel you were created to do. I feel my purpose is to teach. Now the season and the context may change: I may teach people or children of differing ages or demographics; I may be involved in teaching within different areas or ministries within the church; I may teach in different churches or in secular-based environments. The point is that the season or context may change but my purpose doesn’t, and where God uses me is (or should be!) of lesser importance than the fact that He is simply using me. And I’m (or should be!) prepared to be available whenever God needs me or calls me to serve in this area. And I am motivated by the fact that this is my purpose in life and it is what God has created me for.
The other form of service is, if I can put it this way, not so ‘glamorous’! Look at it this way….In any household and family there are always going to be chores and duties to be done. And so it is in the church too. There will always be a need for someone to make the coffee, help with the cleaning up, do the collection, greet people, look after the children and so on. Now for some, these duties or ‘chores’ may be their purpose-filled ministry. But for some they are not; they are simply duties that need to be done. And they have to be done in the spirit of ‘we are all responsible for helping out around the house (church)’. We are here to share the load and therefore, all need to ‘pull our weight’ in these areas. We don’t do these duties to give us meaning and purpose (although, as I said, it may be so for some); we do them because they need to be done. We do them because we are wanting to develop an attitude of serving in ourselves. We do them because we are grateful to Him and for all that He’s done and is doing for us in our lives. We do them because we love God and we love His people. And God provided the greatest example of servanthood in His son, Jesus, who made it His life’s purpose to serve us, right up until the point when He died on the cross for us. He truly is our ‘servant’ king and it is for that very reason that we should choose to serve during our time here on earth.
In conclusion, while the focus of this rambling has been mainly on serving within the church context, if we are desiring to develop a true serving attitude, our serving should extend out into the secular world. Actions do speak louder than words. Sadly, people have too often become disillusioned by the ‘words’ and preaching of Christians. We are called to be the ‘hands and feet’ of Jesus and one of the easiest ways of doing that is through serving the needs of others, in and out of the church. In fact, serving outside of the church is perhaps even more important because that is where the ‘lost’ are found. So “let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially those who belong to the family of believers.” (Gal 6 v 9, 10)
“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”. (Col 3 v 17)
There has been a song which I enjoyed listening to over the last few months of 2017:
“You make all things new
You make all things new
You turn the bitter into sweet, the bitter into sweet
You turn the winter into spring, the winter into spring
You make all things new
You make all things new.” (Amanda Cook: Brave New World)
And it reminded me of the Bible verse, “You make all things beautiful in your time. You have set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecc 3 v 11) I have found both quite encouraging, although I did ask God about when He was going to do this, i.e., make things new because it didn’t seem like anything was changing at the time!
I then watched a movie called The Shack and was struck by a particular scene in it. It was a scene in which the main character, Mack, was walking through a garden with the Holy Spirit and he made a comment about how messy the garden was. (Later in the movie the view pans out to show you an aerial view of the garden and what you see is an ordered and beautifully designed garden.) The Holy Spirit explains to Mack that the reason that all he can see now is this messy garden is because he’s looking at it through his pain (he had suffered the loss of a child). And it struck me that so often that is how we view our lives, like that messy garden, through the filter of our current or past experiences. We are unable to see the ‘bigger picture’, as God does, of that beautiful, well-designed garden. We see life as we are and not necessarily as it is. Now I’m not trying to undermine or deny the pain and suffering we experience due to trying circumstances. That pain and suffering is very real and God understands that we need to process and work through it. It’s just sometimes we get stuck in that pain or suffering and are unable to move on, possibly because we don’t believe that it’s worth moving on or that good can actually come out of that pain and suffering…
So the fact that I couldn’t see this change that God was promising in my life was, in part, due to my inability to see past the disappointments and frustrations I was experiencing at that time. I was also too focused on things changing immediately! Which lead me to another insight God gave me….
God needed to remind me that His time frame exists outside my limited, human time frame. He exists within an eternal time frame, which I can barely comprehend. But the point is that the change from bad to good, from ugly to beautiful, from old to new happens in God’s time not my own…which I often struggle to accept (!)… and this timing is not bound by my human limitations or constraints. It comes down to trusting that God is in control and knows best how to handle the situation, and that His timing is best. Unfortunately, we become impatient. In addition, we can look for the wrong change … the ‘new’ things we look for and want are not necessarily the best ‘new’ things God has planned for us or those around us. That is because we are only capable of seeing things through our imperfect, limited and hurting perspectives…and we’re back on that trust issue….which lead me to this next insight…
Trusting God and believing in His promises requires an act of our will. In other words, it requires effort! And trusting God is not always easy to do, especially when it appears to us that things are not changing, and the same ugliness and suffering, disappointments and frustrations, just seems to recur. Hence, we have to make an active decision to believe and trust in God. And it sometimes requires a huge effort, because some days we just want to give up…. But God’s mercies are new every morning, meaning every day is a new beginning, a fresh start and we can try again. Also (and this point appeals to the educator in me!) our brains are so wired that the more we think (or learn) about something, the stronger that neural pathway becomes and the easier it is to remember that particular thought. So the more we focus on positive things, the more positive we become. The more we ‘train’ our brain to trust God and believe in His promises, the easier it becomes to do that, despite our circumstances. The problem is that this is true for negative thoughts too. Hence the importance of ‘renewing our minds daily’ and making the effort to focus on the hope and promises God has given us as well as on the positive things in our lives. Look at what you have rather than at what you don’t have. A poverty mindset has more to do with one’s perspective and attitude than with one’s physical conditions….
So I need to trust and believe that God is doing something new, that He is changing the bitter into sweet and the winter into spring, even if, at the moment, it may not seem like it.
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and steams in the wasteland.” (Is 44 v 18, 19)
Footnote: I wrote this rambling last year and it is amazing how in 2018 I have started to see the new things that God has promised. And I have to be honest that it was hard to let some of the things in my life go and just trust that God was in control. However, He is faithful and I am so grateful for the blessings and opportunities He has given, and I trust will continue to give, my family and I going forward. I just need to remind myself that it’s His plans and not my own that are best!!
We’ve been doing a series on temptation at church lately…you know one of those series where everyone giggles nervously when a joke is made and no-one makes eye-contact in case someone is able to see into their souls and minds all of a sudden!! An uncomfortable topic…But what fascinates me is the kind of sins that are often focused on in the follow-up discussions. We usually focus on the ‘visible’ sins, the ones that are ‘in your face’, and for some reason ‘smoking’ always seems to be a goodie. And yet smoking is never referred to in the bible as a ‘sin’. Yes it can become an unhealthy addiction and an idol and, in that light, it should be considered a sin. But then so is ‘pride’ a sin; so is being selfish; so is being critical and judgemental; so is being envious and desiring what another has, etc…..
I refer to these sins as the ‘hidden’ sins. The sins that we commit ‘behind the closed doors’ of our homes and, especially, our hearts. The sins that are, in reality, the most difficult to control. The ones we’d rather ignore and ‘brush under the carpet’ because they’re easier to cover up and disguise…The sins that God actually has more of a problem with because what’s in the heart does eventually spill out into our actions…
It is human nature to grade sins. A friend’s daughter at home group the other night asked why we do that. I think it’s because there’s something in us that constantly looks for acceptance and one (misguided) way we try and find that acceptance is through comparison. “I may tell lies but at least I haven’t committed murder…” The thing is “all fall short of the glory of God” and God has as much of a problem with the hidden, less obvious sins as with the more ‘visible’ ones. And, as I mentioned earlier, the hidden sins of the heart usually spill over into very visible actions. Committing adultery starts in the mind, in our thoughts and, if left unchecked, will eventually turn into action. Pride starts in the heart and, if left unchecked, will eventually lead to a fall from grace. My husband made a comment that the sins that most people seem to get tripped up by are related to the three “P’s” – pride, pennies (money and possessions) and petticoats (sexual sins). I don’t think he’s wrong… more people seem to fall from grace because of those sins than say from smoking….But I’d like to add that I think that these three “P’s” usually start with a sin of the heart and in our minds, with a hidden sin…
I feel we need to give more attention to what’s going on in our hearts and our minds:
“The good man brings good things out of the good stored in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6 v 45)
“As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects a man.” (Proverbs 27 v 19)
“Above all else guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4 v 23)
“Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind…” (Psalm 26 v 2)
“Do not confirm any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12 v 2)
“Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is in earthly things.” (Phil 3 v 19)
These verses (and there are many more like them!) illustrate the influence and power the heart and mind have over controlling our lives and our behaviour. God needs us to look inward … and not get distracted by the sins of those around us … but to focus on getting our hearts and minds right. In fact, sometimes, He would rather we focus more on that ‘hidden’ sin first than the more ‘visible’ one that we seem to be preoccupied with at that moment…
In addition, we’re too quick to judge and criticise others and their sins while our own hearts and minds are succumbing to pride and arrogance! That old saying that when you point a finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you is quite true, just like when God admonishes us to ‘take the log out of our own eye before trying to take the speck out of our brother’s eye’…
Now, just as an aside, I like to talk about this issue of judging other people’s sins. An observation that I’ve made of myself, as well as of others, is that people are far more motivated to change their behaviour (and continue to want to change their behaviour) when doing so from a place of acceptance and love than from one of guilt and judgement. I mention this because while we do have a responsibility to hold each other accountable for our sins, and that accountability can help us overcome the sins in our lives, the way in which we assume this responsibility is important. Jesus’ key strategy to changing people’s hearts and behaviour, to helping them overcome their sin, was through loving and accepting them first, not judging them. After all, He did die for us while we were still sinners. Love and acceptance is a far more sustainable foundation to build on than one rooted in guilt and condemnation.
So to sum things up, much inward digging is required, and on a daily basis, because we never know when Satan might try to trip us up. He’s like a ‘prowling lion’, forever looking for an opportunity to make us fall. Therefore until the day we die, we need to be vigilant. But the hope we have as Christians is that “God is for us” and that He’s there for us to run to and lean on, even if we fall along the way. He doesn’t give up on us and He’s fully invested in our transformation.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139 v 23, 24).
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1 v 27)
I read this verse the other day and it felt like it held a profound truth…something I that I needed to get but was just teetering on the edge of grasping… Well, it only took me about 5 months!
Last Sunday, it suddenly hit me what it actually meant to be a daughter of God (that only took me 40+ years to fully grasp!!) You see, I knew it in my head but only last week did that revelation travel down to my heart. Ever been in that place where you know a truth in your head but your heart doesn’t quite trust it?! I think that’s often what faith is about. Hence the need to trust the head over the heart!! But when that ‘head knowledge’ suddenly becomes ‘heart knowledge’, there’s something quite amazing about that experience. Anyway, my understanding might be flawed here, but it did lead me to this particular insight which I felt was quite important to share…
Why I think it took me so long to ‘feel’ in my heart the truth about being God’s daughter was because I was still comparing myself to others (and still doing so, I’m afraid. I’m not there yet but hopefully I’m heading more in the right direction!!). And in comparing myself, I felt pretty useless and inadequate, as one does! So God figured ‘enough is enough!’ and intervened! Anyway, as a result of that ‘heart-felt’ revelation, I felt challenged to see that mind-set that ‘God can use even me’ as flawed.
Now I know why we have that mind-set, why we think like that. It’s because we don’t want anyone to feel disqualified to be used by God. We say, “Look, God can use even me. I don’t have any qualifications, no status, no money, no job, no talents, etc, etc… But God still uses me.” We take that verse that talks about God “using the foolish things of the world to shame the wise” and make it about comparison. Which is wrong. Because I don’t think God ever meant that statement to be used to compare us. I think He wanted us to realise that the ‘things of the world’ do not determine who He chooses to use. I think He wanted us to stop comparing ourselves and focus on fulfilling His plans and purposes for our lives. Which brings me to my next point…
When God created me and you, from our very inception, He created us to be loved by Him and for a specific plan and purpose to be used by Him. Right from the word ‘go’, God has had a plan and purpose in mind for us. Not just for when we get saved. It’s been there from the time we were conceived, from the day He created us. It just takes us 10…20…30…40+ years to work it out sometimes. There’s a bumper sticker that I remember from when I was younger that said “God don’t make no junk!” And it’s true! He didn’t mess up when he first created us and then figure He’d just fix us up when we got saved. No! We were made with a perfect plan and purpose right from the beginning! You see when we think that God can use even me, then we actually prevent ourselves from seeing our full potential and we prevent ourselves from seeing the potential in others. Comparison is the most effective tool that Satan likes to use to bring disunity and ineffectiveness into the church. Because comparison can stop us from walking fully into the plans and purposes that God created us for…because we don’t see ourselves as capable…because we don’t see someone else as capable…
So, in conclusion, I think that’s the truth or revelation I was meant to grasp from that verse in Genesis. It’s not about whether God can use even me; it’s about the fact that because I’m made in His image of course He’s going to use me! Because that’s what He’s created me for…
(PS I ended up writing this rambling at some unearthly hour…my husband’s snoring woke me up and I couldn’t get back to sleep! So if my thoughts are perhaps not as clear as they seemed in my head, I apologise!)
God’s been talking to me about the concept of “Immanuel”, ‘God with us’, lately. I initially thought it was just about the fact that He never leaves us, that He’s with us through our tough times, there to support and encourage us. But I’ve come to realise that it’s been about more than that. It’s been about transformation – character transformation.
A song I’ve enjoyed listening to called “Starlight” talks about there being ‘no space between’ God and I, about God being ‘closer than the very oxygen we’re breathing in’, that ‘we breathe [Him] in’. And I’ve realised that when God with us, when we are that close to Him, what it means is that He then has the opportunity to transform us into the person He created us to be. Unfortunately, life can tend to fill the space between God and ourselves and we tend to find it easier to breathe in the noise of the world rather than the Spirit of God. And I confess that’s where I’ve been at lately. My thoughts and attitudes have been influenced by what has been said and done around me all too readily until I was pulled up short the other day….
An event involving my boys occurred and I felt as strongly as those around me that my boys should not have to participate. After all, it’s just before their exams and they’re in Matric and that should be the priority. And I don’t think the sentiment in itself is wrong. But I came to realise…with my husband’s help, and I thank God that he’s parenting alongside me (!), that the issue at stake here wasn’t my boys’ academic achievement. It was their character.
As parents, we’ve been given the responsibility of moulding our children’s character to the best of our ability. That’s the main thing that God has entrusted with us. Not their academic ability, not their sporting ability, not even their talents and gifts. We’re responsible for moulding their character because at the end of the day, THAT is what God wants to mould and transform in us. The rest is secondary and should be used merely as a means to this end. Their abilities are NOT the end; their character is. So a hard decision had to be made. A choice that involved showing respect for someone in authority, regardless of how poor their decision making was; a choice to push through when you’ve committed to something regardless of the convenience and cost to self. And it was hard for my boys to do this but I admire them for their obedience and show of respect to my husband and me. I admire them because they will probably be mocked for this decision; others will not understand what has actually been at stake here. But the outcome (I pray!) is that something within my boys’ character will have been formed. Something that will help them make the right decision rather than the popular one; something that will encourage them to push through and persevere through the tough times; something that will make them focus not just on their own needs but those of others too; something that will lead them to the point where they are prepared to sacrifice in order to be obedient to God rather than give into their own desires.
And I believe my boys are already showing these qualities. They have been teaching me through their various life experiences over the last year or so. They seem to have learnt important lessons that I have only managed to grasp in my later years. And I thank God for that because we can hope we have control over our children’s lives but at the end of the day, they make their own decisions. We have to trust God to keep them close to Him. We have to trust God in this whole character transformation process because we can try to train our children in a godly way, but they may still choose to do the wrong thing.
And just on that point of our children doing the wrong thing despite our (hopefully!) godly input … I watched a video clip in which Beth Moore was asking if we have guts as parents. Do we have the guts to ask God to intervene when our children are making the wrong choices, when they are not listening to us, when they are rebelling and going off on the wrong path? Do we have the guts to give God ‘carte blanche’ to act in our children’s lives when it might mean hurting our children, just so that they will walk out into the plans and purposes that He’s created them for? Do we have the guts to see our children suffer so that they can fulfil God’s calling on their lives? Some hard questions….and I’ll get back to you on that!
So parenting is hard. Our responsibility is great and the choices we have to make sometimes may not be the popular ones…with our children or those around us. However, we still need to “train a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Prov 22 v 6). And that verse should encourage us as we look forward to the day when our children reap a rich inheritance, one based on eternal values and truths. So stay strong, pray hard and know that God is with you and your children, closer than the air you breathe, to help you all through the parenting/character transforming process.
“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8 v 16, 17)
You’re like starlight in the dark
Endless miles can’t conceal You
Every glimmer is a spark
Catching fire as You break through
Oh, You’re not far away
You come in close
Oh, even as I wait
You come in close
You’re like summer in the night
The sun goes down but still I feel You
Every shadow’s turning bright
Every broken heart is made new
There’s no heart unseen
There’s no space between
You and I, You and I
You are closer than
The very oxygen
I’m breathing in
I breathe You in
You are God with us,
You are here with us,
You are infinite Your glory as no end
I especially enjoy the last verse. I think that’s how it’s meant to be, how God wants our relationship with Him to be. However, stress, worry, day-to-day frustrations, disappointments, anger, impatience, hurts….I could go on and on(!)…get in between God and ourselves. So, although we want to trust and believe that He is here with us, we struggle to really accept it. Too much of ‘life’ gets in the way and letting go of life can be a challenge!
Well, I don’t have any answers on how to get it right. I know it’s about renewing your mind; I know it’s about spending time reading the Word; I know it’s about praying; I know about obedience; I know it’s about ‘taking on the armour of God’; I know all about the ‘tools’ that one must use to draw closer to God. And yet I’m human….a very fallible, weak-willed, prone-to-failure human. But I also know I want this. I want to be so close to God that “I’m breathing Him in”! I want the stuff of life to count less so that there is “no space between” God and me. I want this and while I know that I may not fully experience that closeness this side of eternity, I will continue to look for it, to desire it, to yearn for it. Until one day, “what [I] see as a dim reflection as in a mirror; then [I] shall see face to face….” (1 Cor 13 v 12).
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated;….” (Isaiah 61 v 1- 4)
This is an amazing passage of hope and I would encourage you to read the whole chapter….which I did in church last week to the dismay of some folk I think!!! I just felt the congregation needed to hear the whole passage. And funnily enough most of what I wanted to share after reading the chapter, I forgot to! Better to simply let God speak at times…However, I’m going to give my two…or twenty (!) cents worth in this rambling today!
The first thing that struck me about this passage was that it was, as I mentioned, a wonderful passage of hope. Isaiah shared this hope that God was offering to the Israelites all those many years ago, and God offers this same hope to us today. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. And I think that this is something that our country needs to hear and know right now, with all the turmoil and unsettling issues that seem to have arisen over the last year or so. I think people are fearful and angry and don’t know what to expect. (In fact, I think the whole world has experiencing this of late….there is a ‘shaking up’ of things…’kingdoms are falling’).
The thing is I don’t believe this hope that God is offering has as much to do with ‘physical’ changes or transformation. I feel it has to do with internal, heart changes, to do with people’s lives transforming because they repent and turn to God. This hope that God offers is not going to come from the rand increasing in value or the government changing, etc. These are only temporary changes and will eventually ‘turn to dust’ anyway. The hope is going to come from people turning to Him. The sinfulness of man won’t stop until people’s hearts change. The broken-hearted aren’t going to be healed by giving them money…they need to experience God’s unconditional love and acceptance; the captives won’t be set free by giving them societal or political recognition and status…they need to have the chains of self-loathing and lack of purpose that exist in their minds broken; and the prisoners won’t be released from darkness by being physically set free…they need to understand their identity in Christ and see that their lives count, no matter where they find themselves and no matter what they’ve done. Only God can bring about such changes and renew the hope lost in people’s lives. And this is because God addresses the problem from ‘within’, the root cause of all the brokenness and destruction we see about us. We tend to try and treat the symptoms first.
(Please note that I’m not saying we must sit back and do nothing. We have a responsibility to try and bring about physical change where we can. But too often, if there’s no transformation taking place within a person, the external input tends to have a less of an impact. It’s always better when people are motivated from within themselves to improve their situation rather than just receiving handouts…)
So when we look and reach out for this hope that God offers us, we need to take care not to be looking for it in the wrong places. We need to take care to not focus so much on the external, physical changes … not that God can’t bring about change in those areas. I just think God doesn’t prioritise the temporary things of this world because they don’t last. Perhaps this also explains why sometimes He chooses not to heal even though He is fully able to…
In Isaiah it talks about being clothed in ‘garments of salvation’ and a ‘robe of righteousness’ (v 10) … God’s want us to ‘come home’ to Him, to spend eternity with Him. That’s His priority. That’s the hope He offers. And to conclude, be encouraged by the last verse in Isaiah:
“For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seed to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.” (v 11)
(I appreciate that this may just be my issue (!) but perhaps there are those who would benefit and be encouraged by what I have to say in this rambling….)
‘Beauty is skin deep’. This is our mantra. Often we don’t realise it or don’t want to accept it, especially as Christians where we shouldn’t be ‘judging a book by its cover’, but it is. And I think that this is perhaps something that we, as women, are more caught up in because I have yet to meet a woman who is content in herself…who is happy with how she looks or weighs at any particular moment. Slim women obsess over that ‘roll’ that just won’t shift, beautiful women obsess over those wrinkles that are getting harder and harder to disguise or those greys that seem to be growing out quicker and quicker! And yet when God talks about creating us in His image I think it has very little to do with our outer appearance….
Why are we so obsessed with what we look like? Why do we always seem to be striving to ‘look’ better, younger, buffer, slimmer….? Why does so much of our self-esteem seem to lie in our appearance? I think it’s perhaps because it’s something we feel we can control….well some of us!! Some of us just give up because the mountain seems too high to climb, the goal too far to reach…although it still doesn’t stop us from obsessing about what we look like! Perhaps it’s because it’s something measurable, something we can see improve…unlike our hearts and attitudes which seem to trip us up over and over….Perhaps it’s because we find it easier to hear the loud voices of the world speaking rather than the still, small voice of God…Perhaps it’s because deep down we believe we’ll only be accepted and acceptable if we fit into that box, that dress…one size fits all! Perhaps it’s because we equate equality with uniformity and conformity rather than uniqueness and individuality….?
Whatever our reason for our dissatisfaction in how we look, the truth of the matter is that it doesn’t matter!! Our outer appearance is fading away; in fact, it wasn’t made to last. The ‘image’ that God is focused on is what’s inside…..that intangible, often immeasurable, character-based quality! That part of us we can ignore as long as we’re focusing on what’s on the outside….because changing that part of us requires dying to self, requires laying down our wants and even our needs at times, requires seeing ourselves through very different eyes….
Yet that’s the part God wants to transform. Yes, God wants us to look after the vessel (body) He’s given us but only in as far as it serves the purpose of being used to reach the lost. I think we’d be surprised by how ugly Jesus looked according to our ‘worldly’ standards….But making Jesus look good wasn’t the way that God chose to win people’s hearts….That’s how Satan, the ‘angel of light’ would have worked. People followed Jesus because of what was inside Him, because they could ‘see’ His love for them in how He treated them, in His acceptance of them.
How we ‘see’ people and ourselves needs to become less focused on the external. Our priorities need to change to desiring transformation of our hearts and attitudes rather than of our physical bodies. We need to stop focusing on the temporary and focus more on the eternal. Because, one day, it just won’t matter.
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1 v 27)
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day…So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4 v 16 – 18)
Well, the short answer is: you are.
It seems like such an obvious response and yet how often do we, consciously or sub-consciously, hold others responsible for our happiness? Our spouses, our children, our parents, our friends, our bosses, our church leaders, our colleagues, etc, etc….
And why do we hold others responsible? I think because it’s hard to hold ourselves personally accountable as that usually requires that we do something about it!!! It’s easier to blame others rather than take a closer look at ourselves and acknowledge our own culpability in a situation. And even if we’re not to blame for the way things have turned out for us, we are still responsible for our reactions or responses to those situations and to those people involved, and for our ensuing actions. No one else can control our minds and how we perceive things. At an educational conference I attended last year, the speaker encouraged us to teach the children that we work with to understand that they are the C.E.O.s of their brains. I’m in charge …. of my attitudes, of my motivation, of my thinking. And that is how some people who experience the most atrocious, abusive, destructive situations are able to survive and to overcome their pasts. Because they make a mental decision not to let those experiences define them or how their lives should continue. We are in charge of how we are affected by what’s happening around us.
However, at times when we’re tired and weary, stressed and stretched, it’s hard to feel in charge of our thinking, of our happiness. We don’t have the capacity and that is the truth. As humans, we reach our limits; we run out of grace and capacity to deal with difficult situations and draining (to us) people; we have melt-downs and go ‘out of whack’; we get broken. So how do we embrace this particular truth when we are feeling like this?
Well, as Christians, I think the first thing is to acknowledge you’re not alone. God is by your side, whether it feels like it or not. And He often brings people into our lives who are able to help us through those difficult situations; we just need to look for them. And on this point, sometimes that ‘human’ assistance may not come from the one who you’d expect or even want it to come from. God brings all sorts of people across our paths to help us….so take care not to be so blinkered or narrow-minded in your vision that you miss the person He’s sent to help you in your time of need, just because they’re not who you want them to be!! The reality is that sometimes our good friends may be going through their own hard stuff at the same time as we’re going through ours and, just like us, don’t have the capacity to give support.
Secondly, we need to learn to identify when to set boundaries, when to say no. No-one else can do that for you (and people are not mind-readers so they can’t do this for you!!)….because you are the C.E.O. of your brain! You need to know your limits and be strong (because it does require a lot of strength at times) enough to say no or at least set those boundaries. This particular action is hardest for those of us who are people-pleasers and whose self-worth is defined by how others view us. The thing is, if we don’t learn how to do this, we will end up stressed and burnt out, a condition we might have been able to avoid had we been able to define our boundaries and say no when we should have.
Thirdly, you need to understand what fills your tank, how you get refreshed. For some it’s spending time with friends/people; for others it’s escaping people!! For some it’s visiting the same familiar place each year; for others it’s exploring new places. For some it’s staying in one place, reading a book for hours on end; for others it’s keeping on the move, experiencing new adventures all the time. For some it’s a combination of all the above! But the point is to be able to identify what fills and what drains you and to have the wisdom and strength to take the appropriate action to help you to be able to embrace the fact that you are responsible for your happiness.
And finally, we need to remember that we are all flawed human beings … “all fall short of the glory of God”… and try not judge each other so harshly. I think that if we are able to truly embrace the fact that no-one else is responsible for our own happiness and, in the same way, realise that we are not responsible for anyone else’s happiness, we will, by default, end up being a lot happier!
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4v 16 – 18)
A single seed
Left on the ground
To be blown away
A single seed
Covered by soil
Left to die
A single seed
Waiting for rain
Seeking the Son
A single seed
Buried but not forgotten
Now alive to spread hope…
“They tried to bury us; they didn’t know we were seeds” (Mexican Proverb)
“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12 v 24, 25)