So far in our Bold Living series, James has shown us that as followers of Jesus there should be something different about our lives - differences in our speech, our treatment of others, our response to trials, navigating conflicts, judging others and so on. In James 4:13-17, James focuses on living daily with a right perspective of our lives.
This term at Vision Youth we’ve been looking at things that compete with Jesus for our time, attention and affection.
As we’ve read through Philippians 3:4-11, the overarching theme that stands out to me is that for Paul, Jesus was everything. It cost Paul dearly to follow Jesus. Jesus was not Paul’s “something”, Jesus was Paul’s “everything”.
Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord and He shall give you the desires of your heart
Food is such an important part of our culture and society isn’t it. The rise of shows like Masterchef and the like have fueled the rise of the ‘food culture’ we see operating today, where cafés, fancy restaurants, sustainably sourced food, and even superfoods are becoming increasingly popular. I think it is fair to say that many of us would spend a great deal of time thinking about food – perhaps what food supplies we will need for the weekly grocery shop, what we will be having for dinner or what restaurants we would like to try out. We spend so much time thinking about what we will feed our bodies, but how much time do we actually spend thinking about what we are feeding our souls? It is an important consideration as what we feed our souls actually feeds and nourishes something in our hearts and lives – either good or bad.
The Bible says that ‘man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Deut 8:3). This tells us that it’s not enough for us to be well fed physically, but that we need nourishment and sustenance from God Himself, for He is our source and the One who truly satisfies. As it says in Psalm 37, I believe that we are called to feed on His faithfulness, as doing this will bring life, nourishment, and blessing to our lives. Unfortunately all too often we can feed on the wrong foods spiritually, which will actually nourish things in our lives that really shouldn’t be there.
As we consider what we are feeding on, there are a couple of things that are important for us to remember. Firstly, what we feed on will determine our focus. If we’re not careful, depending on what we are feeding our souls with, we can easily have our focus in the wrong places. It can be easy to slip into focusing on what we feel God isn’t doing, rather than on what He is doing, or on all that He has done. I believe this is why worship is so important for us, because when we worship something happens – we actually feed our souls with the truth of who God is, and the wonder of all that He has done. As we do that, our focus shifts and is made right. I love the story in Acts 16, when Paul and Silas are in prison – bound in the stocks, in the middle of the night – and their response is to pray and to praise. They were feeding their souls on the faithfulness of God rather than the dire situation they found themselves in.
Secondly, what we feed on determines our fruit and our growth. In Luke 6:43-45, Jesus talks about how a good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit, and that it is out of the abundance (or overflow) of the heart that the mouth speaks. Good trees are nourished with good things, which then leads to good fruit. The opposite is also true. Similarly, in Matthew 15:18-20 Jesus is teaching how it is the things that come from within, from our hearts, that defile us – these are things that hinder fruit and unfortunately, are often there because they’ve been fed in some way.
In this winter season, there is a challenging question for us to consider – what are you feeding on? Perhaps some of us need to go on a ‘detox’ diet with regards to the things we’re feeding our souls with, and begin to feed on His faithfulness. Let me encourage us as His people to have the Word, worship and prayer as staples in our spiritual diet, as these things will help us to feed on His faithfulness, which in turn will nourish something good and lasting in our lives.
One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered….Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf. Proverbs 11:24-25;28
There is a paradox in these few verses from Proverbs 11 in that we become richer (in every sense – not just relating to money!) by being generous. The world says to store up and hold onto as much as possible, but God blesses those who give freely of their possessions, time and energy.
There’s something about generosity isn’t there. It can often be surprising, even unexpected, but being on the receiving end of generosity is certainly a blessing. A few months ago I was sitting poolside as my son was having his weekly swimming lesson. I was chatting with one of the other parents who asked if I was interested in a membership to the pool and gym at the facility. They had won a two-year membership in a swim-a-thon competition and given they already had one, they had no need of it. I felt very blessed and grateful, even a little uncomfortable, to be given such a generous gift, particularly as they wouldn’t accept any money for it. The person could have kept that membership and it would have remained unused. However, by choosing to be generous and give, it opened up blessing to me and my family, as we can now use the pool and gym free of charge. It’s the same for us – there are things we have been given that we could keep to ourselves, however, choosing to give and be generous actually causes blessing to flow to others.
As Christians, I believe we are called to be a generous people – to give freely, to bless and to refresh others. After all, we have the most generous God, who time and time again has proved His generous nature, and who continues to freely give to us in abundance. Scripture is full of examples of His generous heart towards His people, and we need not look any further than the cross to see the ultimate picture of generosity, love and blessing.
Being a generous people is more than just something that relates to our finances. It also involves our time, energy, possessions, gifts – all the things God has given us to steward here on earth. Generosity is not something that just happens, it’s an attitude of the heart and something that needs to be cultivated, wherever we are at in life, and whether we feel we have lots, or little, to give.
When we choose to cultivate generosity, there are some characteristics and blessings that mark our lives as a result:
- Gratitude – when we realise the significance of the generosity shown to us by God and others, we become more thankful, both for the blessings we’ve received, but also for the opportunity and privilege it is to bless others (Eph 5:20; Col 3:16-17).
- Right Perspective – being generous helps us to realise that the possessions, gifts, and things God has given us were never really ours to begin with, but gifts to be used for His glory and to help others (Proverbs 11:24,28).
- Trust – being generous helps us to trust God, not just for provision of financial resources, but also for provision of strength, wisdom, favour and everything else we need to steward what He’s given us well (2 Cor 9:8).
- Humility – being generous helps us to look outside ourselves to see how we can be a blessing to others. It causes us to ‘count others more significant than ourselves’ (Phil 2:3)
There is a cost to generosity, but choosing to be a blessing to those around us is in fact following Christ’s example and walking in obedience to Him, as He said ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35).
My prayer is that we would be a people marked by generosity in every way – in speaking words of life and encouragement to others, in our attitudes towards those around us (even the waiters / check out staff who take too long!), in investing time and effort in people to see them come into all that God has for them, and in giving of our money and possessions as and when there is need. As we do this, perhaps we will even find that we experience greater freedom in our own lives from selfishness and being mastered by possessions, as well as point others toward God by displaying His heart of generosity.
‘God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.’ 1 John 1:5-7
We had a really great time away at our recent youth camp, and the theme and focus for the camp was ‘let there be light’. The Lord did a deep work in many hearts, inviting us to come into His light, to allow Him to shine His light into any areas of darkness in our lives so that we can then walk in His light and shine brightly for His glory.
Of course, ‘let there be light’ were the first recorded words God spoke in the Bible (Genesis 1:3). When God speaks, things happen, and so, ‘there was light’! If we can truly grasp the significance of these words, they are powerful and life changing.
I believe there are times in our lives when God highlights things and declares ‘let there be light’ to us. When He highlights areas of darkness in our lives – unbelief, fear, lies we’ve believed, sin, destructive habits, attitudes or patterns of behaviour – He doesn’t do it to leave us exposed or to heap shame on us but rather, to bring His light in and lead us into a place of greater freedom and wholeness. It is far better (and far easier) to walk in the light than it is to stumble around in the darkness.
Some years ago now I had an experience that the Lord has recently reminded me of and has been speaking to me about. I was bitten by a spider on my calf muscle one day while I was doing some work in the garden. I didn’t even notice that I’d been bitten at the time, except for what looked like two little ‘pimples’ that came up later that day. They were slightly sore to touch, but I didn’t think anything of it so left it. The next day, the ‘pimples’ on my leg were much more painful to touch and what appeared to be some bruising had also appeared – but again I chose not to do anything about it and left it, hoping it would get better of its own accord. The following day it wasn’t just the site of the bite that was sore, but my whole calf muscle was starting to swell up and cause me some grief. I was due to play sport on the weekend, so I felt I needed to test out whether I would be able to play or not. I went along to training, which needless to say was a foolish thing to do. As I got dressed afterwards I noticed that not only was my calf muscle now seriously swollen, rock hard and feeling like it was on fire, but I could literally see that the infection had spread up my leg and had made its way into my lymph glands. It was only then, when I could hardly walk, that I made the decision to go to the hospital and the antibiotic treatment I was given cleared it up reasonably quickly and thankfully no amputation was required!
You are probably thinking how silly I was to not get my leg treated earlier and deal with the issue before it became more serious. And I would definitely agree with you. But how often can we be like this in our own journey through life? How often do we perhaps leave things in our own hearts and lives to fester when the Lord is ready and willing to deal with them and shine His light on them to bring us to a place of freedom and healing?
When the Lord puts His finger on things in our lives, it is an opportunity to respond to Him and allow Him to bring His light, truth and freedom to bear in our lives. I love what Andrew said recently, about how we can pray and desire that the Lord would move and work powerfully in our city, nation and beyond (which is a wonderful thing to seek after!), yet often He is wanting to start by first working in our own lives.
As we start 2017, I pray that this would be a year of letting His light in and walking in His light. Where there are things that the Lord may be highlighting or bringing to the surface, let’s not ignore them or put off getting some ‘treatment’. Rather, let’s allow Him to bring healing, freedom and wholeness. When He is able to do the work He needs to do in us, He is able to then do the work He desires to do through us. Are we willing to respond to His invitation when He says – ‘let there be light’?
Paul’s exhortation in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to ‘give thanks in all circumstances is a challenging one for us as Christians, because it addresses the attitude of our hearts. There are some verses in Scripture that seem to challenge you the more you think about and ponder them, and this verse is certainly one of them! It would definitely be easier and more comfortable to give thanks in ‘most’ circumstances, or in the circumstances when things are going well and ‘the world’s all as it should be’. Yet in his writings (and in his life) Paul never settles for the easy, comfortable option does he? Whilst this verse may be a challenging one when we think about the degree to which it may or may not be outworked in our lives, it is a vital one, as I believe Christians are to be marked by thanksgiving.
A question that would be worth asking ourselves from time-to-time is this: ‘is my heart full of thankfulness or is it full of grumbling?’ When our hearts are full of thankfulness, there are many blessing that flow to us (and of course those around us – I know what sort of person I’d rather be around!). These blessings include: grace, joy, contentment and right or enlarged perspective. On the other hand, when our heart attitude is one of grumbling it can, if left unchecked, like a weed grow up to stifle our joy, our contentment, and even hinder our spiritual progress. Jesus says in Luke 6:45 that it is ‘out of the abundance (or overflow) of the heart that the mouth speaks’. Both thankfulness and grumbling are in fact heart attitudes – and both are often manifest in the words we speak – whether that be gratitude, thanksgiving and honour or complaining, negativity, and criticism.
One of the things about human nature is the tendency we have to forget – we can forget to be thankful, even when we have so much to be thankful for. I have found myself in this place a number of times over the last 9 months or so since we purchased our German Shorthaired Pointer x Labrador puppy, Jonty. He is a lovely dog and I am thankful for many things about him such as the fact he doesn’t bark much, he has a lovely temperament, he is great with kids and is great to exercise with. Even so, I still find things to grumble about – the fact that his excavation business continues to grow in size and scope, and the fact that he has destroyed his kennel, a number of different beds, and the winter coat I bought for him to stay warm in the colder months! In my moments of complaint and frustration, I’m thankful that my lovely wife Steph brings perspective and reminds me that he’s just a pup, that he is in fact a good dog and he will settle down as he matures.
In a similar way, the people of Israel were quick to forget to be thankful to the Lord for all He had done for them. Grumbling seemed to be their default response when things got a little bit hard (see Exodus 15:22-16:12; Numbers 14:26-31) and the by-products of that included a lack of contentment, and the wrong perspective. Unfortunately, it also thwarted their spiritual progress and stopped many from entering into the Promised Land and all that God had for them.
As we are in the midst of the cold winter months here in Canberra, I want to challenge us to be a thankful people and not let grumbling be our default response. It’s easy to grumble about the cold, and to shrink back a bit because it’s winter. But there is a grace that flows to us when we intentionally purpose in our hearts to be thankful, even if it’s just for the little, seemingly insignificant things. Having a heart attitude of thankfulness gives us right perspective, enables us to step into more of what God has for us and it also brings contentment because we no longer focus on what we don’t have, but what we do. The apostle Paul practiced what he preached in so many ways, but particularly the exhortation to be thankful. In Philippians 4, we read that he had learned to be content no matter what the situation. I believe one of the keys to experience this kind of contentment is to be thankful. I pray that we would be a thankful people and know firsthand the blessings that flow to us as a result.