You have sown much, and bring in little; You eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes.
Haggai 1:6 (NKJV)
In life we can tend to get pretty busy. We often times will strive after things that we want and push ourselves to the point of exhaustion over things that matter little in the grand scheme of things. Have you ever noticed that when we go after things and don’t involve the Lord in it, that it is far more likely to drain us and bear little fruit?
I believe these verses are great reminders that from the moment we rise to the moment we lay our heads on our pillows, we need to involve the Lord in everything we do. Of course God is always with us, but it is the invitation, the recognition, and the reliance on our behalf that makes a huge difference. To see God and want God in all things that we do will transform our thoughts and decisions, and ensure that what we do brings glory to His name.
Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. 2It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain…
1 Corinthians 15:10 (NKJV)
The Apostle Paul was addressing the church at Corinth expressing his unworthiness to even be considered an apostle, considering all he had done to the Church of God prior to his salvation. In applying this to my own life, I have long considered myself unworthy to be a servant of Christ. In the words of John the Baptist (an amazing man of faith) I am not even worthy to stoop over and loose the straps of Christ’s sandals (Mark 1:7). The fact is, I’m not worthy, and none of us are. This makes Christ’s sacrifice and God’s grace so much more amazing. There is no one righteous (Romans 3:10, Ecclesiastes 7:20) and God chooses to save us anyway. I say that’s an amazing Savior.
He is a great and awesome God Who saves us and invites us into His work which He has prepared ahead of time for us (Ephesians 2:10). As Paul stated, God’s grace in his life will not be for vain but he will labor all the more, even more than the other apostles. Even though grace is not based on works, it is given so that we may abound in this life and love people more, forgive more quickly, serve more wholeheartedly, and persevere with patient expectations that our God will come through. God has created me and His grace is molding me into the man I am today and will one day be. I don’t want to waste His grace.
Peace in the grace of Christ brothers and sisters.
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
Ephesians 5:15-16 (NIV)
We do not have a choice whether or not we leave an imprint. Just by existing in the day to day, we will impact those around us. We do have a choice, however, in how we want to use our life and the affect we have on others. We can use it to either make a positive imprint or a negative one. The wise person will take every opportunity to be intentional about affecting change, love, truth, peace, and hope where they live and beyond.
Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.
Deuteronomy 4:5-6 (NKJV)
God selected for Himself a nation that He saved from their bondage, trained through the desert, and empowered to conquer the sinful nations occupying the Promised Land. Through Moses, God proclaimed time and time again to be careful to follow His commands so that they would prosper; so that they would leave a positive imprint. If God didn’t have a plan for the redemption of mankind He probably wouldn’t have bothered with the nation of Israel, teaching them, and preserving them. The plan He had for Israel was about far more than just Israel itself. The same goes for you and me. He did not just redeem us for our sakes alone but so that we may now be careful to walk in the light and expel the darkness around us, not partake in it.
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
John 8:12 (NIV)
This world offers many counterfeits, some of which disguise themselves as being for God, yet contains ungodly practices that go back thousands of years. In Proverbs 23:17 we’re told not to envy sinners (or what they do) but to be zealous for God. We’re told in Romans Chapter 12 to not be conformed to this world yet many still blend right in. Each of us needs to decide whether we are going to water down our Christian walk to be nothing more than a label or if we’re going to love to the fullest, walk in holiness, and observe God’s commands. We need to decide if we’re going to pick and choose what works best for us in scripture and stumble our way through this life or take the Bible as the literal Word of God and live out the powerful force of a Holy Spirit filled life.
Our life is our ministry and our ministry is our life. We must choose whether to let this world dictate our theology or let the infallible Word of God dictate the world around us. What better imprint to leave than a godly one? Encourage the weak, love the unlovable, bring peace to the unrest. Speak truth into a confused world, but speak it in grace. Show compassion for the downtrodden, and empathy for the hurting. Be that beacon of hope and let your joy be contagious. Wherever the believers treads, thereto the Savior has walked.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13 (NKJV)
Hope is one of those words that when you say it, it rolls of your tongue and immediately brings a glimmer of light to your heart. Hope is something to cherish and be thankful for. It serves as a platform of strength in those moments that seem perilous or without end. It is something that every single person needs. We can’t do life without it. As the verse above says, hope is accompanied with joy and peace. But only when that hope is in something real and constant.
I’ve heard people say to have hope in hope. To hold on to the “idea” that there is a “possibility” that things can get better. This is mere optimism. I happen to be an optimistic person myself. I like to look on the Brightside and believe that things will be ok. But my optimism is based on Someone, not just an idea or a desire to have good feelings. Hope that is not founded on reality is delusion.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
Hebrews 10:23 (NKJV)
The Someone I have hope in is an unwavering and eternally faithful God. In our darkest moments we can rest assured in the hope that is brought to us by Jesus. He has a proven track record. He’s never failed. He’s shown His love and devotion to humanity regardless of the fact that we don’t deserve any of it. I don’t have hope because I believe things will get better in life. I have hope because Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. I have hope because I’m never abandoned by the One who made me. I have hope because He’s been beyond faithful in my life even when I’ve waivered in my faith. My hope is founded on Him, not my circumstances, past, present, or future.
Hope is that light at the end of every tunnel whether we think we see it or not. If you’ve been grasping for just a glimpse of that light, yet feel lost in an endless dark tunnel, look no further than the cross. Look to the Son hanging for our transgressions, touch the scares of His nail-driven hands, and absorb the love that it represents. In times when life is the most difficult, stop and pray. Realize that Christ faced all the hardships that this world can dish out and He has overcome the world. And more importantly, He did it for you. So that you will always have a hope so solid that it can never be broken. Let us not waver but be forever hopeful in the promises God has given us. Let us seek Him out and be renewed in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Let us not give up on Him, for He never gives up on us.
Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, All you who hope in the LORD.
And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.
2 Corinthians 9:8 (NKJV)
It seems like it can be so easy to get offended by what others say or do to us. Sometimes we feel justified to feel a certain way and that we have a right to not forgive someone. However, Christ was pretty straight forward with us…we are to forgive as He has forgiven us. We really don’t have any choice in the matter if we claimed allegiance to Christ. By not forgiving we place ourselves in the judgment seat that is already occupied. When we don’t forgive, we attempt to usurp God’s throne. It may not seem like that in our minds. We are hurt and upset and we don’t feel like forgiving. Simple right? In those moments it’s important to think about all the ways we hurt or insult God by our actions, thoughts, or words. If we’re honest with ourselves in those moments, we will quickly realize that to not forgive the offenses done to us is beyond hypocrisy.
God does not tell us to forget or to not feel the hurt from time to time, but He does tell us to forgive. To forgive is to release them from a debt. A debt that you perceive that they owe to you. It is our fallen human nature, a product of this broken world, that we think people should get what they deserve. At the same time, we are so grateful that we don’t get what we deserve. The word grace means underserving kindness, favor, or forgiveness. Just think of all the things that God is constantly forgiving us for and how we don’t deserve it. Obviously we are not Jesus but once again, God is calling us to be like Jesus. God has given us an abundance of grace, which we can use in those moments when we feel wronged or mistreated.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Colossians 3:12-13 (ESV)
Almost every day presents opportunities to be offended. But with that, we have opportunities to grow in grace every day. My guess is, while reading this, you have someone or some event in mind. Have you forgiven them? Have you moved forward in grace? The one who pays the largest price for unforgiveness is the one who refuses to forgive. Choose love. Chose peace. Choose to show the world a love that is beyond human nature.
In the days I struggle, it helps to read through the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant found in Matthew 18. To see the enormous level of grace shown to the servant, who then turns around and refuses to extend grace to others, is a bitter pill to swallow when I see myself in that story doing the same. We’ve hurt God far more than anyone has and ever will hurt us in this lifetime. And He’s gone above and beyond to show us forgiveness. How can we do any different? How can we possibly refuse to give what has been given to us. How can we be so blind? While the hurt is real, the only real cure is love, which is far more powerful.
An incredible song by Hillsong Worship called Thank you Jesusopens with the lines, “Grace that flows like a river, washing over me. Fount of Heaven, love of Christ, overflow in me.” Lord let that be true in all of your children. Let’s overflow in love and grace!
Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
1 Timothy 6:6-10 (NKJV)
What is God’s focus for our lives? Does God want us to focus on material gain, emotional satisfactions, physical pleasures, or every day comforts? Does God want us to focus on promotions, new jobs, new cars, fancy clothing, nice jewelry, a big television, iPad, or iPhone? Does God want us to pour our hearts into sports teams, movies, or tv shows? Or does God want our focus to be on godliness, faithfulness, loving others, serving, sharing the gospel, and laying our lives aside for Him and others? God is calling us to pour our time and energy into things that bring glory and honor to His name and draw us and others closer to Him. Everything else is fading away with this world but God’s will is eternal (1 John 2:17). As Job said, “naked we came into this world and naked I’ll leave so praise the Lord!” (Job 1:21).
Our focus determines our actions because our focus reflects our hearts (Matt 6:21). If we place a lot of value on the things of this world and the comforts of life then our actions will try to acquire those for ourselves. But if our hearts are for God and the mission He’s called us to, then our actions will reflect the fruits of the Spirit (love, peace, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control). God knows your focus. Others know your focus too. It’s obvious by how we live our lives, the decisions we make, and the impact we’re having. We all owe it to ourselves to take a close look at our lives. Do you need to refocus?
We all have it in us because we have Christ in us. We all have the mission written on our hearts because God did it Himself. We all have what it takes to live the life we were designed for. We were made for more than what most of us will settle for. Let that not be your story.
But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”
Zephaniah 3:17 (NKJV)
God is living among us, with us, and in us. Because of this we have a genuine partnership. God created us for His purposes, for His kingdom, for His will. As Christ said, we must deny ourselves and follow after Him. As tough as that sounds we have been dropped into this story that God is writing and we all have a role to play in it. No one else can fill it for us so we must rise to the occasion or others will pay the price. We must speak into the lives of those around us, live by faith, lead by example, help those in need, bind up the broken, encourage the weary, and cherish those that God has entrusted to us (Isaiah 61:1-3). Through all of this we have an unending source of strength from a God who takes delight in those who serve Him. He also calms our fears with reminders of His love. He is, at this moment, singing a joyful song over us. Ushering us into a life that has power and impact for His glory and a hope and encouragement to those in our lives. God is glad that you are His child and the people around us should know it. We are partners in the greatest story of all time, where He is the main character, love is the story line, and the best happily-ever-after awaits. God doesn’t invite us into this relationship because He has to, but because He wants to. And that is an encouraging thought.
From the end of the earth I will cry to You, When my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
Psalm 61:2 (NKJV)
Our heart is the most important part of our bodies. It’s no wonder that God tells us in Proverbs 4:23 to guard our hearts above all else because this is where the enemy takes aim at. That is what falls into despair. Our heart carries the load and gets beat down through all the stresses life throw our way. Fortunately, we do not have to rely on our own strength in any situation, no matter how extreme or minor it may be. We have a Rock and a Refuge higher than ourselves. We have a Savior that is greater than all that may come our way. We have the endless peace and joy that comes from knowing Him. We have Someone who wants to build us up and encourage us always. We have Him who is greater than all our problems to call on no matter where we find ourselves. We have strength that is greater than anything we ourselves can muster. We have the protection, strength, and love of the One who molded and made us in our mother’s wombs. He who is the author of your life wants what is best for you and only He knows what that is. I pray that if you are in need of hope at this moment, you find that in His love. You are not alone. You are not too far gone. Let the One who began your life, sustain your life.
On Apostle Paul’s final missionary journey he had been all over the Mediterranean. Towards the end of that journey Paul had been touring Macedonia and Greece for months. Then he spent a week at a place called Troas. Here a man named Eutychus was raised from the dead after falling from a third floor balcony (you know, you’re average trip to Troas). He continued his tour to Miletus on his way to Jerusalem. There he calls the elders from Ephesus to address them one more time before his departure to Jerusalem. He didn’t want to go to Ephesus because he didn’t want to be delayed on his mission to reach Jerusalem by Pentecost. Here he makes a few final statements to the leaders of the church because he feels his time is coming to a close. Included in those closing remarks is the following statements.
From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived, he said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents. You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.
What kind of message is Paul trying to give? He starts by focusing on the consistency of his manor of living since day one of meeting them. He also emphasizes his boldness in sharing his faith. All along the way he was opposed constantly. But that never caused him to waiver. Paul was also undeterred by the uncertainty that lay before him in Jerusalem and beyond. He concludes his statements by making sure the leaders knew that the mission is more important than even his life, and the life of every believer. Verse 24 is the life statement for what it means to follow Jesus. This is what we are all about.
We label ourselves by a lot of titles, husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, our career titles, or even by the things we enjoy doing. But there is only one label that matters the most: follower of Jesus. All the other labels are good and fine. But only when they don’t derail us from the most important one. We have to stay focused on what matters most. Paul’s statement is exactly that. Your life, and mine, has been redeemed in order to testify to the world of His redemption. We’ve received grace to show grace. We’ve experienced His love in order to pass it on. We need to be true to who we are in the sense that we belong to Jesus. We need to have consistent living, not altering who we are based on who we are around. We can’t waiver or shrink back based on the uncertainty that lies ahead.
Truth is, we have far more differences than we do things in common. We have physical, emotional, political, and even theological differences. We all have different backgrounds and upbringings. We are ethnically and culturally different. And if we allow those things to dominate our view of others then we will never be as strong as we’re meant to be. Now more than ever, we need to be committed to fighting the spiritual war with a common purpose, in a unified effort. Because that which unites us is far greater than all the differences we may have. In the midst of all the divisiveness we have to stay on target. Reaching the world with the gospel. Our lives only matter to the extent we bear the image of God and show His love to the world. Everything else pales in comparison. Let’s spend our time giving it away. To encourage. To bring healing. To bring truth and love.
According to the dictionary, strength means the quality or state of being strong, mental power, vigor, moral power, firmness, or courage.
“He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength.”
Isaiah 40:29 (NKJV)
Often times we think of the word strength as meaning physical might, but this word is by no means limited to this definition. Strength is more often needed in terms of mental toughness, courage to follow through or step out, and to maintain moral integrity in a fallen world. As we think about challenges that we face throughout the course of a day, we’ll find that the vast majority of them require a resolute mind, steadfast soul, and the firm knowledge of who God is in our lives. We get bombarded by messages of insecurity and insufficiency. We are told to seek pleasure and to make ourselves and our dreams come true (don’t mind the expense that others pay along the way to get us there). We’re told love is love and to disregard a moral standard that can be defined. We’re told our identity can be whatever we feel like it should be rather than who we were made and intimately crafted to be. We’re told life evolved which discredits any notion of the unique and overwhelming value of each human being. We’re told that one person’s comfort, future, and even health can override another person’s right to exist and be born.
The message of the world is to eat from the forbidden fruit and denounce your allegiance to your maker. Place yourself in the seat of God because you know what is best for your life. Those are the messages that take real courage and strength to stand against. Because the world does not share a message that values life, morality, integrity, and our true identity as being made in the image of God. Weakness goes with the flow and bends to the moral compromises that common culture offers. But there is an endless source of “mental power” and “moral power” offered through Jesus. However, that power comes through devoting our hearts, decisions, words, thoughts, and total lives to Him. Albert Einstein is quoted saying that, “Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person.”
Seek the LORD and His strength; seek His presence continually!