Confession: This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are ahead, in the name of Jesus (Philippians 3:13)
Do you remember the prostitute who anointed Jesus? ‘A woman came, having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head.’ She gave her most precious possession to Jesus. Not only was it extremely valuable, it was also part of her sex appeal. Breaking it open was her way of breaking with her past. She was giving up her former life by giving that jar to Jesus. Remember the revival that broke out in Ephesus? Those who practised sorcery burned their scrolls publicly.
The value of those scrolls was estimated at 50,000 drachmas. A drachma was a silver coin worth a day’s wages. That’s 138 years of wages! They could have sold those scrolls and pocketed the money, but they would have been selling their souls. Instead, they made an $8.4 million statement of faith. Our problem is that we want God to do something new for us, while we keep doing the same old thing. We want Him to change our circumstances without having to change us at all. But if we’re asking God for new wine, we will need a new wineskin.
Change is a two-sided coin that reads: Out with the old, and in with the new! Most of us get stuck spiritually because we keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. Spiritual routines are a crucial part of spiritual growth, but when the routine becomes routine, you need to change it. What got you to where you are, may not get you to where God wants you to go next.
LET GOD BE SEEN—NOT YOU
Confession: I shall not do my good deeds publicly in Jesus’ name (Matthew 6:1)
Jesus reserved His harshest condemnation for those who did good deeds ‘in order to be seen’. He flipped on the spotlight and exposed every self-righteous mole and pimple. He called them hypocrites, the original Greek for ‘actor’. First-century actors wore masks. So a hypocrite is someone who puts on a mask, a false face, and performs for the applause of others. Jesus didn’t say, ‘Don’t do good works.’ Nor did He say, ‘Don’t let your good works be seen.’ We must do good works, and some of them must be seen in order to have an impact. So let’s be clear.
To do a good thing is a good thing. To do good, to be seen is not. In fact, to do a good thing to be seen is a serious offense. Here’s why. Hypocrisy turns people away from God. When God-seekers see singers strut like Las Vegas entertainers… when they hear the preacher—a man of slick words, dress, and hair—play to the crowd and exclude God… When church attendees dress to be seen and make much ado over their gifts and offerings… When people enter a church to see God yet they can’t see God because of the church, don’t think for a second that God doesn’t react. Jesus was clear on this issue: ‘When you do good deeds, don’t try to show off. If you do, you won’t get a reward from your Father in Heaven.’(Matthew 6:1) Today let God be seen—not you.
RELATIONSHIPS AND REFLECTIONS
Confession: I shall meditate on God’s word, day and night, in the name of Jesus (Joshua 1:8)
There are two things that help determine personal growth:
(1) Your relationships. The Bible says, ‘Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?’ (Amos 3:3) The company you keep will lift you, level you, or lower you. A lady wrote this letter to an advice columnist: ‘In my last year of school my English teacher took an essay I’d written and tore it apart in front of the class. I was humiliated— I felt dumb. That was years ago, and I’ve never forgotten it.’ In a few short seconds the wrong person diminished this woman’s sense of self-worth for a lifetime.
(2) Your reflections. When a Sunday school teacher asked a little girl, ‘Who made you?’ she replied, ‘God made part of me.’ The teacher asked, ‘What do you mean?’ The girl replied, ‘God made me little—and I growed the rest of myself.’ God holds us responsible for our personal growth. The psalmist wrote, ‘I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation.’ (Psalm 119:99)
The word ‘meditation’ means ‘reflective thinking’. Like a slow cooker, meditation allows your thoughts to slowly simmer until they’re done. Most of us would rather act than think. But as Socrates observed, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ Reflective thinking is uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. For instance, we have difficulty staying focused. We find the process dull, and we don’t particularly enjoy spending time reflecting on difficult issues. But if you don’t carve out time for reflection and meditation, you won’t mature. You won’t grow in the ‘grace and… knowledge’ you need to succeed. It’s that simple.
THE WAY UP IS DOWN
Confession: I shall run and not be weary, I shall walk and not faint, in the name of Jesus (Isaiah 40:31)
Jerusalem was surrounded by walls, and one of the ways into it was through Valley Gate. When Nehemiah rebuilt the walls, we’re told: ‘The people… rebuilt Valley Gate.’ (Nehemiah 3:13) In the Christian life there has to be a place for both ‘mountaintop experiences’ and ‘valley experiences’.
Let’s take another look at a well-known Scripture: ‘They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles [that’s elevation]; they shall run, and not be weary [that’s acceleration]; and they shall walk, and not faint [that’s duration].’ (Isaiah 40:31) And when you don’t have the strength to do any of these things, Paul says, ‘Having done all…stand.’ (Ephesians 6:13) There’s a season in your life for all these experiences and you must embrace it. The Bible says Jesus ‘took the humble position… Therefore, God elevated Him to the place of highest honour.’ (Philippians 2:7–9)
Luke records that Jesus ‘took bread, and blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.’ (Luke 24:30) Blessed and broken—that’s still God’s pattern. Why? So you can handle His blessings and remain humble. You’re in trouble when you’re more conscious of your image than of your need for God. That’s why He allows you to walk through situations that bring you to the place of utter dependence on Him. You have to be taken, blessed, and broken, before you can be given away in service to others. In God’s Kingdom the way up is down!
THE COMPARISON TRAP
Confession: I will only look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith, in the name of Jesus (Hebrews 12:2)
Don’t compare yourself.’ Galatians 6:4 CEV Nothing will destroy your peace of mind faster than comparing. It shows a lack of understanding and makes you ‘behave unwisely’. (2 Corinthians 10:12 AMPC) Cain measured himself against his brother Abel, and it ended in murder. When the disciples compared notes to see who among them would suffer and who would be spared, Jesus told them, ‘That is not your business.’(John 21:23 NCV) Observe:
(1) Comparisons can make you feel superior, which leads to pride. Remember the Pharisee who made a great show of thanking God because he was better than everybody else? (see Luke 18:11). Pride was Satan’s downfall; that’s why he loves it when you struggle in the same trap.
(2) Comparisons can make you feel inferior, which leads to low self-esteem and keeps you focused on yourself. You overlook the truth that ‘God doesn’t play favourites’ (Acts 10:34 GWT) and start believing He’s withholding things that are rightfully yours. Society creates a sense of entitlement; then Satan reminds you of all the people who’ve already attained what you want, which propels you further down the road to discontentment. Anne Peterson says: ‘Satan’s lies have a little truth mixed in, which makes them harder to recognise. We need to refute them by saturating ourselves with the truth… it’s only by learning the Scriptures that we can sort them out.’
(3) We attempt to bring God down to our level by comparing how He’s working now with how He worked in the past. Stop trying to figure God out, and trust Him! ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’ (Isaiah 55:9 ESV) Instead of comparing, start using and appreciating what God has blessed you with.
WE ARE TRAINED BY OUR TROUBLES
Confession: The sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us, in the name of Jesus (Romans 8:18).
Contrary to what you may think, the ideal environment for your children is not one that’s devoid of problems and trials. Though it’s hard to accept at the time, your children need the minor setbacks and disappointments that come their way
How can they learn to cope with problems and frustrations as adults, if their early experiences are totally without them? Nature tells us this. A tree that’s planted in a rain forest is never forced to extend its roots downward in search of water. As a result, it remains poorly anchored and can be toppled by even a moderate wind. By contrast, the mesquite tree that’s planted in a dry desert is threatened by its hostile environment. How does it survive? By driving its roots down ten metres or more into the earth, seeking for water. By adapting and adjusting to harsh conditions, the well-rooted tree becomes strong and steady against all assailants. Our children are like these two types of trees.
Children who have learned to conquer their problems are better anchored and better able than those who have never faced them. So your task is not to eliminate every challenge your child faces. Rather, it’s to serve as a confident ally on their behalf, encouraging them in their distress, intervening when the threat becomes overwhelming, and being available when the crisis comes. You need to give them the tools with which to handle the inevitable problems and pressures of life. Paul expresses it this way: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us.”
Bottom line: we are trained by our troubles.