“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” But this He spoke of the Spirit…” John 7:37-39
The words Bilbo spoke in The Lord of the Rings came to me several years ago: “I am like too little butter scraped over too much bread.” Running, ministering, doing… all on fumes. I’d been like a cell phone that is beeping to tell you it’s low on power. I told myself it needed to be charged but maybe I could make one more call before I lost power? Recharging takes time and sometimes we feel like we don’t have any to spare.
How about you? Do you need a drink from the fountain of living water? Have you learned how to survive even while you’ve got signs everywhere that there is nothing in the tank?
Jesus invites me and you to come to Him again for a fresh drink of the Holy Spirit. How do we drink of the Spirit?
- Recognize that there is a difference between actually drinking of the Spirit and only believing in drinking, reading about drinking, or talking about drinking. (If any of these constituted drinking, I would be continually renewed.)
- To drink I must own my need to drink and bring that thirst to Christ Himself. Oftentimes we bring our thirst to the empty pleasures of this world that turn out to be cisterns that are leaking. (Jeremiah 2:13) We get a small emotional renewal up front but in the end we become even more weary.
- To drink I must believe in the abundant grace of God and that He has created me for intimacy. He died so that sin could not keep me from Him, and He lives to help me drink of His Spirit who He knows I need.
- To drink I must make time. Bilbo got away. The cell phone must be plugged in for a while and be unavailable to carry around for a time.
But what about all the people who “need” me? If you take serious time for renewal you may touch fewer people, but God will be able to touch more. And in the end, people really need God, not you, anyway.
“Strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled but healed.” Hebrews 12:12-13
The author of Hebrews is writing about how to respond to hardships in life. All hardship, he says, is part of God’s discipline or training, to grow us up. (Hebrews 12:7) Yet the very hardship that was designed by God for our healing can end up hurting us if we respond in the wrong way. We need to strengthen ourselves and stay on the straight path in these trying times, or we are in danger of ending up on the disabled list.
What makes us weak in hardship are the lies of the enemy. A few verses earlier we are warned to not be discouraged by discipline, or to take it as a sign of God’s rejection. God loves us and His discipline is actually a sign of His acceptance. (Hebrews 12:4-5)
A great danger in 21st century America is the belief that God’s chief end for us is to be happy right now, so anything difficult must be prayed away or rebuked as being from the devil. God wants us to be healthy, not just happy, and sometimes that means He allows things in our lives that we wouldn’t choose for ourselves. Even if the devil initiated the difficulties because he hates us, God will use them for our good if we’ll trust Him. (2Corinthians 12:7-9; Revelation 2:10)
Because of this, James tells us we should rejoice when we face various trials because God’s end is that we would become complete in Him, lacking nothing. All we have to do is allow patience (our patience with God) to finish its work. (James 1:2-4)
Are you in a time of difficulty? It is easy to be offended and wander away from God. Strengthen yourself right now by embracing the truth. God loves you and this present difficulty is only going to make you better if you just hang in there. Choose to trust in God’s love and rejoice in His wisdom even when you can’t figure out how something so hard can work for your good. (Romans 8:28)
“But when this son of yours who has squandered your property…” “We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again.” Luke 15:30,32
You were not just made for a relationship with God; you were made for a relationship with your brothers and sisters in Christ. The older brother had stopped seeing the prodigal as his brother – he only saw him as his father’s son: “this son of yours…”
When the prodigal left, his father’s heart broke, not just because of what he was losing, but because of what his oldest son was losing. The father had heard these sons laugh together, seen them compete with each other, and watched them defend each other their whole lives. He probably dreamed of them being life-long friends who would enjoy seeing their children grow up together and enjoy the bonds of family. The family was broken up when the prodigal left, and it was a great loss for everyone. Our sin doesn’t just separate us from communion with God, it hurts the whole family.
When the wayward son returned, the father was overjoyed because the family could be whole again, but the older brother didn’t see it that way. When he refused to join the party, the father went outside to reason with him: “This is your brother who had died to all that is good and beautiful. He is back; we can be a family again. Please embrace him and let us rejoice together.” (My paraphrase)
The father was ready to make him a son, but his oldest was not ready or willing to see the prodigal as his brother again. His life was smaller because of it.
How about you? Has the Father come to you and asked you to give a brother, sister, friend, parent, or child another chance? Let’s die to our right to be angry or wounded; let’s forgive and start seeing value in the broken people around us that God is trying to redeem. Let’s go into the feast and rejoice in God’s love together, for the sake of our Father, and for the sake of our own brothers and sisters.
“Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises loving-kindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things…” Jeremiah 9:23-24
The greatest benefit of being a Christian is not something God does for us, but God Himself. The greatest reward for praying, serving, or sacrificing therefore is not an answered prayer or a changed circumstance, but an increased revelation of who He is. Think about it: our future is only as good as God is. It wouldn’t matter where we went if the One who was there was not filled with beauty, love, and righteousness. If God wasn’t perfect in every way then our future would be unstable and unpredictable. It’s not His promises, but His character behind His promises that is our ultimate guarantee.
It is a shallow Christianity that is just trying to get what God offers in salvation without seeking the God behind the offer. Who is this that has promised all of heaven to those who come to Him in faith? Who is this who has died for us and calls us to be His bride? Who is this who has made us to be the very children of God, sons and daughters, who no longer are to live in shame, fear, and guilt but in the security of the beloved?
Do you enjoy God? I hope so. If not, you’re missing something very important. Instead of trying to make your life work just so, or trying to make your dreams come true, seek to make God Himself your delight. Everything else will fall into place if you aim for the greatest reward. As David wrote, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)
“O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me. Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me.” Psalm 131:1-2
David learned how to quiet his soul. Infants immediately seek for milk when near their mother’s breast and have to be weaned away from the habit. After a child has been weaned, they will rest quietly on their mother’s lap without frantically searching for food. Similarly, we naturally worry about that which we cannot control and have to be weaned from this tendency, so that we can find our rest in God. How do we quiet our noisy souls within us?
- Accept with humility the limits to human understanding. Although we can learn things about God, there are heights and depths to who He is and the way He does things that are beyond our capacity to figure out. David had surrendered those areas and recognized that it was only his pride that kept him from trusting God just because he didn’t know the answer to all the “whys” of this life.
- Recognize that God is the center, not you. “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted in all the earth…” (Psalm 46:10) Astronomers have recently discovered that there are billions more stars than they originally thought. The earth is a small place in a small galaxy that is a small part of the universe. The greatness of the heavens should help us to grasp both the enormity of God and the smallness of us. When we become large in our own eyes, anxiety easily creeps in. Our strength doesn’t come from our activity, but in our quietness and confidence in God. (Isaiah 30:15)
- Trust God’s love for you and in His willingness to save you. Weaned children rest content because they have now eaten solid food. It is not enough to stifle our need for control, we must actively feed on God’s love and salvation. You are safe in His care. Although you can’t control anything, He can, and He will exercise loving and wise oversight to our lives if we will only trust Him. Peter says it this way, “Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (1Peter 5:7)
“O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up. You understand my thoughts from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways…. How precious are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.” Psalm 139:1-3; 17-18
In 2010, then President, Barack Obama, came to Madison and while he was here made a surprise visit to La Follette High School. When the football coach called the team together, the president addressed running back Jaylen Plummer by name and said he knew that he had scored three touchdowns in a game played the Friday before. Plummer’s response when interviewed by the Wisconsin State Journal about the meeting: “amazing, … the president knows my name.”
What an experience! A regular high school student having such a personal meeting with the most powerful man in the world. Our president is the CEO of the world’s largest economy and the commander-in-chief of the world’s largest military. There’s no one who comes close to wielding that much power. For him to take the time to stop at a regular football practice and then to show knowledge of such a specific event – truly amazing.
Now consider with me for a moment what it means that God wants to have a personal relationship with you. There have been many presidents and there will be more in the future if Jesus doesn’t come back, but there is only one God. There is no one like Him; He is the beginning and the end. He isn’t just the president of one country, He’s the King of all kings. He’s not just the CEO of the world’s economy, He owns everything and provides for His children out of His boundless riches. If it doesn’t exist, He can create it. He needs no military because the word out of His mouth can slay all the armies of this world in a moment. (Revelation 19:15)
No doubt President Obama was briefed on La Follette’s football game on the way to the surprise visit. He had just learned about the three touchdowns and would probably forget about them an hour after the meeting. God doesn’t need a briefing on you. He knows your name and everything about you. The only thing He forgets is your sins when you bring them to the cross. I hope we never lose the amazement that the King of the whole universe wants to be our friend.
“The friend who attends the Bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the Bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” John 3:29-30
I am redefining success on the basketball court. It used to be all about winning or losing which meant leaving the game either excited, discouraged, frustrated, or depressed, depending on the final score and how I played. My new definition is that just getting exercise is a “win,” but it’s a difficult transition because I’ve labored under the old mindset for a long time. I have to remind myself each game of my new way of looking at it. “It doesn’t matter that I missed that shot or that we are losing by 10; I’m playing, sweating, and running – I need nothing else to enjoy the game.”
The text quoted above is John the Baptist’s response to disciples who came to him with the news that his ministry was decreasing while someone else’s was getting bigger. “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan…well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” What they were really saying was something like this: “Do something! We’ve got to get the crowds back here because we’ve always baptized more people than anyone else. Let’s get some posters up, let’s interview the man on the street and find out why so many are going elsewhere. Why not have a party with free pizza?”
Americans love results. Bigger is always better. Work hard and if it’s not producing, work harder. Results rule. John had a different definition of success in life: intimacy with God. He informed his disciples that his joy was not in the ministry, so it really didn’t matter whether it was getting bigger or smaller. His joy was in hearing the Bridegroom’s voice and in being His friend.
To be a friend of God and to respond to Him with joyful obedience when He speaks is the greatest thing you and I can do. It’s not about production, it’s about the relationship. The Westminster Confession states: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Remember to enjoy God today and you already have the win.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.” Matthew 23:25-26
Several years ago I was on an extended fast with the purpose of obtaining more of the power of God and the gifts of the Spirit. One day near the middle of the fast I was crying out to God for these things, and He spoke a clear word to my mind. I believe it was God because it was so different from what I was praying, and clearly not the result of my natural thought processes. Here was the thought: “I never want your public anointing to be greater than your private devotion.”
With that thought came an immediate realization that my current public anointing was already greater than my private devotion which meant that I was in a dangerous place as a minister. Here I was praying for more public anointing, which would have made the imbalance even greater, while God was wanting to do something more foundational inside of me. Needless to say, the focus of my fast changed from that moment on. It’s not that I still didn’t want the power, I just knew the road to it must include a greater devotion that could sustain the greater ministry.
The Pharisees were concerned about the outward. They measured God’s favor by their outward blessings and continually sought to put forward the best possible image of themselves. They were more concerned about how they appeared before others than about how they actually were before God. Jesus told them to stop focusing on the outward and to start cleaning up the private, inward parts. He assured them that if they would do this, the outward would take care of itself.
Don’t worry about being a Christian example to others. Concern yourself with actually being a Christian before God. Having to appear to be anything other than you are in public is a massive burden and almost impossible to keep up. No wonder Jesus’ burden was so light; He never worked on appearing. He made sure things were right before the Father, He kept a strong private devotion, and then just lived it out all day.
“The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant.” Psalm 25:14
The margin of my Bible has “intimacy” as an alternate translation of “secret.” I believe that a certain measure of the fear of the Lord is necessary for anyone to come to Christ. Proverbs says: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10) A revelation of God’s love for us in our weakness and immaturity is necessary to grow us up in our faith. (Ephesians 3:17-19) But I think to walk close to God’s Presence another level of the fear of the Lord is required.
It says in Isaiah 11:3 that Jesus delighted in the fear of the Lord. He experienced the secret promised by Psalm 25:14, enjoying the continual intimate friendship of His Father. He didn’t fear man, He didn’t fear death, He didn’t fear storms, He didn’t fear lack of supplies – He only feared God and cared only about obeying what the Father was saying. (John 5:19)
Maybe the idea of the fear of the Lord seems heavy to you. I think it was just the opposite for Jesus which was why He was able to say, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30) He only had to please the Father to be a complete success. Paul said something similar to this: “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent (from the body), to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord…” (2Corinthians 5:9-11a)
Only one ambition! What a simple life, what an easy yoke, what a light burden. May God pour out the Spirit of the fear of the Lord on each of us and make it our delight for His glory.
“Delight yourself in the Lord…” Psalm 37:4
A few years ago I had a life changing experience while preparing for church early one Sunday morning. The text on this particular morning was from Hebrews 12: “…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…” and I was praying through the message and planning the altar call.
I was going to tell a story about a father who was coaching his kindergarten son on how to win the “all class race” which was taking place that day. His son was very fast, but also easily distracted, and the dad knew it didn’t matter how fast he was. If he didn’t run straight, he wouldn’t win. So he made a strategy: “Son, when the race starts I will be directly across from you at the finish line. Don’t worry about who is running next to you, or bother watching your own progress; just focus on me, and run straight into my arms.”
The question I was going to ask our people was: “What’s at the end of your race?” What are you really living for? Is it money? Pleasing people? Your retirement? etc… As I was thinking how powerful this was going to be, a question jumped into my mind which I knew was from the Lord. “What’s at the end of your race?” I knew instantly it wasn’t what I thought it was.
The answer came quickly as well as the consequences of my wrong priorities. “Jesus” was not at my finish line; it was something subtly different called, “Influence for Jesus.” It was plain to me that I had become a worker for God, before I was a lover of God, and equally clear what the costs were of my wrong priorities:
- I wasn’t delighting in God, because my reward was no longer Him, but in how many people I was influencing for Him.
- I had lost my delight in people. I could no longer enjoy people because I always needed them to do something. People were becoming projects that I had to work on instead of people that I could just enjoy.
The final sentence I heard whispered in my spirit was this: “I’m calling you to be My bride, not My PR man.”
A bride represents the Bridegroom in a different way than a promoter does. She knows Him intimately, and has even taken on some of His fragrance. Yes, she can answer all the basic questions, but that is not her joy. Her joy is to be with Him, and her influence is spontaneous, not forced. This is what Jesus wants from us.