A Worker Approved

15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15

For a very long time, and sometimes still, I have felt that the work I’ve done for the Lord was insignificant.  I longed to be known for my good works. I longed to be recognized for my “accomplishments” for the Kingdom of God.  Embarrassing, right?

I’ve come so far over the years, though, and that is something only God could do.  Is my ministry more famous or more recognized now? Nope. Is my work for God more relevant now? Nope.  My work is generally the same. It’s only me that’s changed.

So, Paul’s advice to Timothy was to be unashamed, approved, and to rightly handle the word of truth.  Hmm. So working for God means being the perfect pastor, right? Or maybe the perfect evangelist? We know a lot of their names.  The ones on tv must be pretty good. They are surely unashamed and approved or God wouldn’t let them be on TV, right?

Wrong.

Obedient submission to God is what grants us the ability to be unashamed.  To have the faith to accept that God’s answer for my salvation is from Him and not from me. The righteousness of God, given as a free gift, unearned, undeserved, that’s what lets us approach the throne of grace with confidence.  Having Jesus as our high priest, Jesus as our righteousness, Jesus as our savior, Jesus as our King. That’s what gives us the right to be unashamed.

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
2 Corinthians 4:7-11

So how do we know we are approved?  “We are afflicted and not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”

And look at what Paul says in Romans:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
Romans 4:1-3

Approval doesn’t come from anything we’ve done or are doing!  It comes from faith. Abraham believed God. That’s approval. When I believe God and what He says, that’s approval.  That’s it. Nothing more. Faith brings God’s approval.

So, when I act according to God’s will for me.  When I trust that He is going to use me as He sees fit, that He will give me opportunities to trust Him and serve Him, and revere and worship Him, that’s when I’m working for God.  He’s given me gifts and tasks to use for His glory and not my own.

Did He ask you to hug that lady at the grocery store, and you obeyed?  That’s God’s work. Did He ask you to give up your career and serve refugees in the Middle East and you said, “ok”?  That’s God’s work. Buy someone’s groceries because you felt stirred? God’s work. Preach a sermon because the Lord has burned it in your heart to share what He has taught with His people? Yep, God’s work.

But here’s what’s not God’s work: quitting your job to become a missionary because that sounds like a great adventure.  Or, going on a mission trip to Nicaragua every year because the church body will know how holy you are. Or, teaching a Bible Study because you want people to think your smart.  Or being the front man of the church band so that you can maybe get a record deal or you love the attention. The list can go on forever.

So many things in this world sound good to us.  King David thought building a temple for God was a great idea, but did God ask him to build it?  Nope. Did God let David’s son Solomon build the temple? Yes.

God will partner with us even when we’re wrong.  He’ll partner with us in folly just to teach us how to hear His voice better.  Was building the temple folly? Of course not. But did it last? Nope. God will let us “work” for Him in a million different ways, just to teach us, just to show us that it all comes down to Him in the end.  Nothing else.

Have faith in Him, the One who made you, the One who calls you. To work for God is to submit to His rule.  You must stop obeying your own heart and the picture the world has offered you of what ministry is supposed to look like.  You’re never going to find it that way. And you’re not going to accomplish much for the Kingdom, either.

Instead, keep your eyes on Jesus.  Trust Him. That’s it. Only trust Him and do what He says.  That’s how I’ve changed the most over the years. I’m much quicker now to want to glorify Jesus, instead of myself.  If God asks nothing more of me than to point my silent smiling face to the King of Kings, then that’s what I’ll do. That is being a workman approved.  

Jesus, give me the faith to trust You.  Help me to stop looking at myself. Help me to hear Your voice and obey Your commands.  Thank you for how far You’ve brought me. Teach me and help me to go further for You and for You alone.  

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
John 10:7-18

 

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Is There More, God?

Is there more, God?  My heart echoes those words over and over.  Is there more? More suffering. More fear. More pain. More joy. More healing.  More learning. Lord, I am hungry, but I’m scared of the buffet table. In this world there is so much more, but not all of it is good.  Nor is it all bad. You are here to some degree, Jesus. You are here through Your children. But the world is so broken, and wrapped in seduction, each offering can be more suffering or healing.  And I struggle to know which one until I taste it.

I want more healing, Lord Jesus.  It’s not even about the physical anymore.  It’s so much deeper than that now. I want more knowledge of my sin, and more refining of my heart.  I want more renewing of my mind. I want more, God. Give me more.

But more is so scary, Lord.  I don’t trust myself anymore.  I don’t trust my hearing. I don’t trust my discernment.  Is it You or is it me? Is it light or is it darkness? I want more, God.  But I’m afraid. You haven’t given me a spirit of fear but of a sound mind.  You have given me self control and clear thinking.

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:7

You give me power, God.  But is there more? Give me more, God.  I need more power, love, and self-control.  Why do I fight it? What am I afraid of? Why do I long for more and run from it all at once?  Will I fail You, God? Is that what I’m afraid of? I know that more from You means less of me. Why don’t I want to give You all of me?  Give me more me? Is that what I want?

Wretched (wo)man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Romans 7:24

Deliver me, Jesus!  Give me more of You.  Break me of these horrible desires that causes my flesh to battle against me for death and darkness instead of life and light.  I want more light. I want more life?! Why do I fight it? What am I so afraid of? Is there more darkness, Lord? Is that my fear?  Will I have to face more of my own ugliness to find Your light? I don’t want to see it anymore, Jesus! I hate it! Does that mean I hate myself?  Does that mean I don’t know Your love?

Jesus, I want more.  Will You give me more of You?  I’m so scared, Lord. I’m terrified.  What will more of You reveal in me? I want to approach the Throne of Grace with confidence.  I need more grace, Jesus! I need more confidence in You. I want more!

You have given me so much already.  And I want more! There is so much more.  I want it, Jesus. I want more. Let me feast on the joy of Your salvation!  Let me taste and see that You are good! Give me more, Jesus. Break down my fear.  Break down my lust. Break down my doubt and my cowardice and my stubborn pride. Humble me, though I’m so afraid to ask for it!  Humble me and make me more like You.

I want more.  So much more! Give me more!

 

On Being Thankful

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?”19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
Luke 17:11-19

I complain a lot to God.  I know that sounds bad, but I don’t think it is.  I complain about my circumstances. I ask for provision.  I ask for healing. I ask for salvation for my loved ones.  I ask for hope. I ask for courage. I ask for help in a million different ways, and if I look at my requests with a critical eye, I can see the complaint in every single one.  On the surface, my prayers seem dependant on the Lord. They are filled with the helplessness that we should always assume about ourselves. It’s the notion that, “there but for the grace of God, go I.” And that’s very, very true.  But I know it’s more often my doubt and my fear that plunge me into these prayers. I doubt provision. I doubt healing. I doubt hope and courage and strength. If my life and my salvation truly are by the grace of God alone, shouldn’t I be more confident in the lesser things?  

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
Matthew 16:26

My salvation should be enough for me.  The whole world and the things of the world are nothing in comparison to the profound gift of eternal life that Jesus has provided.  James put it forward in an interesting light:

You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
James 4:3

I say all of this to examine honestly my motives.  Do I ask for my passion? Do I ask for my fear? Do I ask for my safety?  Or do I ask for the Lord? And am I thankful for it?

33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

Is the overcoming of the world not enough for me?  Really? Do I praise God for my life and salvation or do I wallow in fear and anguish over the things of this world?  And that brings me back to the lepers. They want Jesus to have pity on them. They want healing. They want to be restored.  They want to return to their lives. But only one acknowledged the author of his salvation. Only one came back to say thank you and to praise God.  That one leper knew that the Lord had saved him from more than his disease. He had given him life, and being thankful for that became his primary goal.  He didn’t just take the blessing and run along with his life. He praised the author of his salvation. He praised the King of Kings for his sovereignty, his authority over life, and his mercy.  

Lord Jesus, I want to trust You in all things.  I want to have confidence in your sovereignty in all aspects of my life.  When I come to You, Lord, I want to come in confidence, not fear. I want to come in the knowledge of Your divine grace and mercy.  You saved me!

9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Matthew 7:9-11

I want to trust You more, Jesus.  I want to trust in Your provision, Your life, Your deliverance, because you know what I need and are delighted to give the good gifts we ask for.  You love me. Help me trust in Your love so that I can truly worship and praise You with thanksgiving instead of fear.

 

Harsh. True. Humbling.

And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14 But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”
1 Samuel 13:13-14

Saul gave up the beautiful blessing of Godly leadership over himself and his people, and he gave up the legacy of being the line from which Messiah would come.  Saul had everything a man could want: looks, strength, a commanding presence. He looked like the perfect person to be a king. But in fact, Saul was fearful, arrogant, and unwilling to follow God.  The world is a liar! It is self serving and shallow. It puts looks above the substance of the heart. It glorifies self sufficiency and a handsome appearance over humble servanthood and an obedient heart.  And Saul was the poster boy of worldly royalty.  

Even though Samuel had warned the people of the folly in demanding a human king, the people would not listen.  The result was utter failure. Their human king wanted God’s blessing, but wasn’t willing to obey God in order to receive it.  Saul didn’t want to share the glory. He didn’t want to wait on the Lord. He let fear and arrogance be his compass. And it led to grievous sin against God.  God is not a lucky charm. He is the Almighty Creator, Our Mighty Defender, Our Solid Rock! And Saul’s impatience made the Solid Rock of Yahweh nothing more than a stepping stone to his own glory.  Saul’s arrogant, fear-driven foolishness became the cornerstone of his defeat. He gave up God’s blessing because he was driven by his own desire and fear, and not by trust in the Lord.

What do I give up when I act against God’s will for my life? 

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
Romans 1:21-25

Harsh.  True.  Humbling.  

Lord Jesus, help me not to give up the truth for a lie because of fear or arrogance or desire for glory!  Humble me and encourage me after Your own heart, that I might be able to walk in the truth for the rest of my life.  I recieve Your loving forgiveness that I never earned or deserved, and I accept again Your leadership in my life. Keep me from fear based decisions by building up my faith and confidence in who You are.  Help me know You better and trust You more. Draw me nearer to You, so Your light surrounds me and casts out all darkness. Create in me a clean heart, O God! Restore me to Yourself. Cast me not away from Your presence!  Lead me in the paths of righteousness for Your Namesake. I will trust You. I am Yours.