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Surrender, Trust, and Focus

Our son Jakob has had a busy summer of learning.  He’s accomplished a few things he was afraid to learn.  He was afraid, because he’d been afraid of failure. In order to avoid failing, he would default to just avoiding some things.  I explained to him why these things were important for him and why quitting just because something was hard wasn’t going to benefit him later in life. I told him that avoiding trying in order to avoid failure was still failing to accomplish the goal, so for each obstacle, he could choose to be a failure or a conqueror. Either way, I told him he had to obey and go out and try. He assured me he wanted to be a conqueror, and he was. He mastered biking, swimming, and hitting a baseball off a pitch (as opposed to off a tee).

For Jakob to master these things, he had to surrender to me. Because he naturally wants to avoid failure, he didn’t really want to go outside and try these things. I insisted, not for me, but for him. These are good things for him. They are fun, good sources of exercise, and great ways to play with friends in the neighborhood. I wanted what was best for him, even if he didn’t see it was best. He had to trust that I was telling the truth that it was the best thing for him. He had to trust that even if it hurt when he fell, it would be okay, that even if he failed at swimming, he wouldn’t drown, because I wouldn’t let him. He had to trust that I would be right there to pick him up, hug him, and make sure he was okay. And he had to stay focused on me. Whenever he got nervous that he was about to fail, he’d look at me, and I would give him instructions: pedal harder, keep pedaling, sit up straight, kick your feet harder, make sure your feet are behind you and splashing. And they worked! He stopped crashing, and he didn’t drown.

When we follow after God, we need the same three concepts if we’re going to conquer. We need to surrender to Him, Trust Him, and stay focused on Him. I’ve been reading Psalms lately in my devotion time, and David repeats these themes consistently. He surrenders his life to God, he trusts God’s direction for his life, and he keeps focused on God in times of trouble. Earlier this week, I read Psalm 25.  It’s a Psalm written by David while he was in the midst of troubling times.  He begins this way:

Psalm 25:1 (NLT)

O Lord , I give my life to you.

He was surrendered to God. His life was God’s life to do with as He pleased. He follows immediately in verse two saying that he put his full trust in God. Whatever God’s plan was for his life, he was going to trust it. So:

Psalm 25:4-5 (NLT)

“Show me the right path, O LORD; point out the road for me to follow.” 

He wanted God to show him the right path to follow, because that path would be the right path. Sometimes the right path isn’t the path we would choose.  Sometimes it isn’t the path that makes sense. But we must trust that God’s path is what is best for us and follow His instruction.

Psalm 25:15 (NLT)

“My eyes are always on the LORD, for he rescues me from the traps of my enemies.” 

Regardless of what is going on, David was going to keep his eyes focused on God. There were enemies all around him. Failure and even death seemed imminently possible. He didn’t focus on that stuff. He didn’t focus on the pain or the struggle. He kept his eyes on God. Circumstances come and go, but the Lord is constant.

Whether you are in a struggle right now or not, as a Christian, you need to follow this plan. Surrender your life to God fully. Trust that His way for you is best, even when it doesn’t make sense. Keep your eyes on Him. This is how we conquer.

He wants to use us

My sons like to be outside with me whenever I’m working outside.  They like to “help me” rake leaves, paint, and grill. I like being with them, so I let them participate as much as I can.  Jax is a little young to be allowed near the grill, so I don’t actually let him help with that, but I do let Jakob flip stuff. Sometimes, I don’t have a lot of margin with time, so I don’t always let them help me.  Their helping me slows me down at this point, because they are young, and I have to stop and instruct, keep them on task, or watch out for them instead of just working quickly. But generally speaking, I want them to help me, not because I need their help, but because I love them.

God wants us to help Him, too.  He loves us and has invited us to participate in His plan.  He doesn’t need our help. He could certainly do anything that needed to be accomplished without us. But He wants to use us.  I’m reading Esther right now in my devotions, and something Mordecai said really struck this chord with me. King Xerxes had an official named Haman, and Haman hated Mordecai.  He didn’t want to just punish him, though. He wanted to really hurt his people, so he convinced the king to make a decree that all Jewish people should be killed in a single day throughout the kingdom. Esther, Mordecai’s cousin and adopted daughter, was Jewish, but she was also the Queen. Mordecai was urging her to speak up to the king, but she has some hesitance.  In chapter 4, verse 14, Mordecai says this:

If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”

He was right, too.  God had promised to preserve the Jewish people, so whether Esther stepped up or not was irrelevant to the big picture. But God had put her in a unique position to be used by Him for His great purpose.  She had been called to a specific task. Even though He could accomplish saving the Jews without her, God wanted to use her, not just anyone.

God also wants to use all of us to declare the Gospel, the truth that Jesus is God. In Luke 19, as Jesus was riding into Jerusalem, His disciples were praising Him.  The Pharisees asked Him to quiet His disciples and urge them not to speak that way about Him. Jesus replied in verse 40:

“If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

God calls us specifically to do something for His kingdom, and He also calls us all to some general tasks.  Whether it’s the general or the specific, it’s an honor to do what God wants me to do, because I know that He doesn’t need to ask me.  He can go get someone else to do whatever I choose not to do.  He can even make the rocks cry out and speak His name.  But He didn’t call the rocks, and He didn’t call someone else.  He called you, and He called me.  He wants to use us, not because He needs us specifically, but because He loves us.

influence but not control

I was raised in a Christian home. For this, I am grateful. I know that my parents’ faith strongly influenced my coming to faith. That is not to say that every Christian parents’ children will be a Christian, just as not everyone who is a Christian had Christian parents.  But the influence is strong.  I learned to worship God and have faith from a young age, just as my children are learning now. We talk about God, read and discuss the Bible, attend church together, etc.  It is my hope that my children see in me and learn enough from me about God to want to follow him into their adulthood, just as I did.

Reading through the books of the kings (1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, and 1 & 2 Chronicles), there is a repeating theme.  Often times, it would say that a king pleased God with their lives just as their fathers did, or it would say that they did evil before the Lord, just as their fathers did.  There are times when the children swung the other way, from Godly fathers to being evil kings, or from having evil fathers to being Godly kings themselves. But time and time again, most of them were following the influence of their fathers.  One particular instance stood out to me when I was reading yesterday, because it demonstrates three important truths about being a Godly parent and leader:

Jotham did what was pleasing in the Lord ’s sight. He did everything his father, Uzziah, had done, except that Jotham did not sin by entering the Temple of the Lord . But the people continued in their corrupt ways. (2 Chronicles 27:2)

Jotham’s dad was king before him.  He was a Godly king who did most things right.  Uzziah saw his positive example and followed it.  However, his dad, in anger, did something stupid, too. He went into the temple where he was not allowed to go, and when confronted with this truth by the priests, he got angry and began to yell at them. Instead of heeding God’s instructions, he wanted to do what he wanted to do.  God struck him with leprosy, which he had until he died. Jotham also saw this, and instead of rising to his dad’s level, he learned from his mistakes and exceeded his dad’s example.  And yet, despite having two Godly kings in a row that sought to please God and have the people follow after God, Judah continued living sinful, corrupt lives. This, sadly, included Jotham’s son Ahaz, as you’d read in chapter 28. He did not follow God like his father and grandfather.

As I read this, I had three thoughts strike me:

  1.  Children learn to serve God from their parents, just as Jotham learned from Uzziah.
  2. Children can go on to walk more closely with God than their parents. You can exceed their example, just as Jotham did.
  3. You can lead well, as a Godly king, leader, and parent, and the people you lead – your children, people in your church, etc. – might still walk away.

Parents obviously have influence. What Jotham did that was pleasing was exactly what his father had done. He learned that.  Your children are watching and learning. But his dad didn’t control him. He was able to rise above his mistakes. Don’t limit yourself to what your parents did and didn’t do. If you need to, rise above the example and exceed expectations you’ve put on yourself based on your parents. On the other hand, some of you parents have done all you could. You followed God and taught your children to do the same, but your children have walked away from God. Don’t beat yourself up. All you can do is lead by example.  You can influence your children, but you cannot control them. If they’ve walked away from God, away from your example, don’t give up. Keep praying for them. Keep loving them. Keep demonstrating the love of God to them. Maintain your influence.

mighty warrior or party guest?

I love to celebrate.  I celebrate little victories and big victories.  I celebrate personal accomplishments and the accomplishments of others.  It doesn’t take much to get me to celebrate with you. If you’re excited, I’m usually excited (pastoral exclusion clause for excitement over sin; I can’t get excited about that). I especially love to celebrate church things. I am deeply moved when people accept Christ at church.  It never gets old.  I get excited for baptism Sundays, for baby dedications, for people joining the church, for students signing up to go on their first (or 8th) mission trip, for when an elementary kid brings his quiet time for the first time.  These things are worthy of celebration.

We all celebrate some of those things together in church, and I think we’re all excited for what God is doing, but not everyone is invested in it. Some have worked and fought hard with and for others to experience victory.  People have given their time, their abilities, their finances, their friendships, their wisdom, etc. to the church, to their neighbors, to their friends, to their families, because they are invested in the Kingdom, but not everyone is.  Some are just there to celebrate at the end. I was thinking about this dynamic as I was reading about David’s Mighty Men in my devotions last week.

“Next in rank among the Three was Eleazar son of Dodai, a descendant of Ahoah. Once Eleazar and David stood together against the Philistines when the entire Israelite army had fled. He killed Philistines until his hand was too tired to lift his sword, and the LORD gave him a great victory that day. The rest of the army did not return until it was time to collect the plunder!” 2 Samuel 23:9-10 https://www.bible.com/bible/116/2SA.23.9-10

Eleazar stayed to fight.  David was at war with the Philistines, and he wasn’t going anywhere.  Most of his soldiers left, but not Eleazar.  He was invested in the battle and the subsequent victory. The rest of the soldiers came back only when the battle was won to collect the plunder.  They returned for the celebration.  On that day, they were nothing more than party guests, while Eleazar was a mighty warrior.

In the context of the church, which are you?  Party guest or mighty warrior?  Are you standing in the trenches, pushing forward for the advancement of God’s kingdom?  When we celebrate at church, are you celebrating as someone who was invested, or are you celebrating as a party guest? Are you doing what you need to do to see victories for the kingdom: people coming to church for the first time, people accepting Jesus as Lord, baptisms, kids learning about Jesus, etc.? You can.  Even if you haven’t in the past, you can.  You can start investing in other people, inviting other people, serving in one of the many ministries in the church, investing your offering in the church.  You can get involved and fight for victories and advancements for the Kingdom of God.

Don’t be just a party guest. Be a mighty warrior.

not swayed

Did you know that not everyone likes everything I have to say?  I know that is shocking, but it is true.  I have found in ministry that there will be times when I’m called to preach a particular topic that I know in advance will not be popular.  Sometimes students don’t like everything I teach.  Sometimes adults get upset with what I teach.  It’s par for the course.  This most commonly happens when the subject matter is more charged or sensitive, perhaps difficult and/or countercultural.  Some days you just know you’re not going to make everyone happy.  I don’t intentionally say things to make people unhappy, but I’m willing to teach what the Bible says regardless of how it might make someone else feel.

I just finished 1 Kings last night.  Throughout 1 Kings, you pick up a pattern of Israel’s kings not following after God, choosing rather to listen to false prophets and worship false gods.  God’s prophets were often instructed to deliver bad news to the kings as a result of their sin.  These conversations tended to be awkward and not welcomed.  In 1 Kings 22, King Ahab wants to take back a city that had previously belonged to Israel.  He consulted many false prophets of false gods regarding his plan, and they all readily agreed with him.  King Jehosaphat shared his concern that a prophet of the one true God had not been consulted, so Ahab relented and sent for Micaiah.  When Ahab’s messenger reached Micaiah, this was there exchange in 1 Kings 22:12-14 (NLT):

Meanwhile, the messenger who went to get Micaiah said to him, “Look, all the prophets are promising victory for the king. Be sure that you agree with them and promise success.” But Micaiah replied, “As surely as the Lord lives, I will say only what the Lord tells me to say.”

Micaiah was not swayed by the request of the messenger.  He was not swayed to tickle the ears of the king to make him happy and avoid his wrath.  He wasn’t going to compromise, knowing that speaking the truth to the king could get him killed like many prophets before him.  He was only going to say what God told him to say.  He would only speak the truth.

I think this is an important lesson for us as Christians.  Humans have a long history of not liking what God has to say and of going against Him. Even people who believe in and worship God have disagreed with Him, but our disagreements do not change His truth.  It is important for the Christian to stand firmly on what God says, not dispute with Him when what He says goes against how we feel, and communicate what He says without watering it down to avoid conflict.  Sometimes God will put someone in your path who needs to hear His truth, and we can’t shy away from it just because it may make us uncomfortable. People will want us to agree with them.  They may denigrate us when we do not.  They may want to silence us.  But we cannot let fear of disproval from people cause us to be swayed from the truth of the Bible.

Don’t be swayed.  Don’t compromise.  Only say was the Lord has said.

be still

Be still.
Be quiet.
Be silent.
Stop moving.
Stop fighting.
Stop ignoring.

God keeps bringing me back to Psalm 46.  I cannot tell you how many times I have read it in the last month, but it has been several times.

But why?  Why does He keep making me read this.  It has consumed my mind.  I think of it as I go to sleep, and it is still there when I wake up.  Why?

Because I am not good at being still.  I cannot sit still most of the time.  I struggle to still my mind.  He wants my attention – when I read, when I pray, throughout my day – but I struggle to stop thinking of conversations, details, scenarios.  My mind drifts to things that make me happy, things that make me sad, people that make me angry, and what I want to do about all of those things.

I need to be still.  I need silence.  I need solace.
I need to empty my mind, so I can empty my heart to Him.
I need to stop talking to God, so I can listen to Him.
I need to cast all of my cares on Him.
Wars and storms may rage around me.  I can’t dwell on that.
That means no more worrying about finances, no more worrying about defending myself, no more worrying about what others do.  I can’t waste another minute on the things I cannot control.  Whatever is nagging at me belongs to Him.  The less time I spend worrying, the more time I can spend accomplishing the things God wants me to do.

Be still.  Be silent.  Listen and hear.  Watch and see.

Psalm 46

1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.

2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
Selah

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.

5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.

6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

7 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Selah

8 Come and see the works of the LORD,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.

9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
he burns the shields with fire.

10 “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

11 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Selah

“It’s not you; it’s Me”

Jakob made me proud this week.  He asked me if he could have 26 Easter invite cards from church.  I asked why he wanted to many, and he said he wanted to invite everyone in his class, including his teacher, to be at church Sunday.  Tuesday night, he spent time writing names on the cards and making sure to put “from Jakob” on all of them, and then he put them in his backpack.  On the way to school yesterday, I told him he needed to ask his teacher when the most appropriate time would be to give them out instead of being disruptive to her schedule, so he did.  I also told him that he needed to understand that not everyone would want to come, because some have their own churches, and some just don’t go to church, so he shouldn’t get upset if some people didn’t want them.  He said he was okay with whatever they said.  After school, Sarah was waiting for him to come home.  We live across the street from his school, so if his brother is napping, Sarah waits for him in our driveway as he walks himself home.  He was running late, though. When he finally showed up ten minutes late, he told Sarah that he was late, because he was handing out his invites to all of his classmates.

I was proud of him for making that choice.  It was his idea, not ours, and he went through with it.  He didn’t get nervous and back out, as I would be tempted to do.  I asked him if he was nervous at all, and he said that he was not, because it was important and needed to be done.  He’s very pragmatic.  I admit that I was a little jealous of his boldness.  I don’t know the last time I shared the Gospel or invited someone to church without feeling nervous.  I can talk myself out of opportunities to invite and share. I know it’s because I don’t like rejection. What if they say no to me?

The reality is that some will turn you down, and some will even be rude in the process.  Jesus knew people would not accept His message when He sent out His disciples, so He gave them encouragement in this regard.  In Luke 10, Jesus sent out His disciples to share the truth about Him into the surrounding towns.  He tells them how to handle being accepted, and He also tells them how to handle being rejected, because Jesus knew some would reject them.  But He assured them it wasn’t them the people were rejecting. Jesus told them, “Hey, when people reject you, it’s not you; it’s Me they’re rejecting.”

Don’t get discouraged when people do not accept the truth of God when you share it.  It’s not you that they are rejecting; it’s God.  As Christians, we are simply responsible for telling them the truth.  We are not responsible for making people believe, because we can’t make them believe.    What people do with the truth that we share with them is between them and God.  We are the messengers.  We have the most important message.  I encourage you to share it this week, invite people to hear it this week at church, and remember that it’s not you, It’s Jesus they’re rejecting if it comes down to that.