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The Requirement for Usefulness

November 13th, 2017

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15-16 ESV)

Several people mentioned to me yesterday how much they appreciated the sermon on Joseph’s promotion. For years he had been locked up in confinement, and seemed to maintain his faith and servant attitude, but suddenly he was catapulted into national prominence. Yet this promotion did not go to his head, he did not become proud. Rather he learned to listen to others rather than speak himself. He was humble and wanted God to get the glory from his life.

Most of us can handle adversity easier than we can handle success. We learn to worship and serve the Lord, even though we are personally going through a difficult time. But when we receive a promotion, when God blesses our job or our ministry, then we are tempted to pride. We are tempted to lord it over others, to forget God, to become selfish and stingy. The one who tithes sacrificially on a meager salary, will be tempted to give less than a tenth when he gets a raise. We far too easily forget God’s goodness to us, and imagine that we do not need Him any more.

Joseph did not do this. His faith was as remarkable when he was experiencing advancement as when he was undergoing adversity. He was humble, God-centered, ready to serve others, not lustful over attention or the praise of men.

A requirement of all who God will use is a broken spirit. Jesus said:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. (John 12:24-26 ESV)

When God called Paul, along with the call was a prophetic statement, “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” We are unsure how much money Paul had - we know that sometimes he was in significant financial hardship, but we also know that he was always like this. Paul himself said, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Phil. 4:11-12). He had learned - by the Spirit’s work in his life, by his challenging life calling, by the examples of other believers around him - the art of dealing with all circumstances.

Kipling has this marvelous line in his little poem “If” - “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.” Paul learned, as we all should learn, that disaster does not remove God’s hand from our lives, and triumph does not remove our need to remain humble and faithful before Him. In all situations and conditions, the Christian’s goal must remain the same - that God would be glorified in and through our life.

There is no person in Scripture that God used in any significant way that He did not also break. He broke strong wills, egotistical mindsets, hedonistic lifestyles, self-centered agendas. He broke people that He might use them, and bless them. Brokenness leads to greater usefulness and greater joy than selfishness does. The selfish person is a miserable person. Harry Overstreet made the profound observation: “The ungiven self is the unfulfilled self.” We are made by God not to live selfishly for our own glory, but to be broken, humble, and poured out before Him.

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Be Still and Know

November 10th, 2017

Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted in the nations; I will be exalted on the earth. (Psalm 46:11)

There is no more holy duty for believers than to still our hearts - barring worry and anxiety from them - and dwelling on the revealed knowledge of God. There is likewise no spiritual activity that is more rewarding for us than this.

Be still - the original Hebrew uses a verb form that emphasizes this as a completed action - an intransitive verb, for all you grammarians. It does not merely say to slow down for a second, or to let our busy and anxious thoughts dwell on a different topic. It means to come to an end to our distractions and to sink down in the reality of God, putting the entire weight of our minds upon Him.

The 46th Psalm is about anxious worrying, fretting about all sorts of worst case scenarios. “We will not fear,” the inspired author says, “though the earth gives way,” in order to swallow us up, it would seem, “though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea” (46:2). It is the unbalanced and unchecked constant thinking about all that can go wrong that destroys spiritual peace in our lives.

There is a point to considering what could go wrong, and to making proper preparations, but our faith in the reality of God, in His faithfulness and power, adds another dimension to this matter. A worrisome mind may prepare logistically for dire circumstances, but at the same time never feel at rest with out a heart of faith in God.

And know - the knowledge of the truth of God can come only by His revelation. He must enlighten our minds before we may know that He is God, and that truth must be embraced with faith in order to be personally appropriated. “No man can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).

There are some scholars who believe this verse is primarily directed to the nations, and not to the believer. It is the proclamation to those who are not yet His people, calling them to believe and obey Him, to bow before Him and worship Him. If that is the case, it cannot not be said that it means nothing to the believer. It does in fact proclaim a truth that we believers must embrace in our hearts.

The prophetic timeline - we also note that these last two statements, of God’s exaltation among the nations and upon the earth, are placed in order properly according to the prophetic timeline. The first, to be “exalted in the nations” speaks of worship, and means literally to be exalted in the hearts of the many different peoples upon the earth. The Greek translation of the New Testament era used the word “ethne” or “ethnic groups” to convey this thought. As the gospel goes out and is preached among the nations, many bow their hearts to God in faith and believe in Christ, and He is exalted in their hearts.

The second prophetic statement of being “exalted on the earth” speaks of geography - the word is “eretz” and it means the earth itself. When Christ returns He will set up His Millennial Kingdom and reign on earth, fulfilling the kingdom prophecies of the Old Testament.

These two thoughts, of current faith among the people of the world and of a future kingdom established on earth, are meant to bring comfort to our hearts. God is at work in the world and He will bring people of all nations to genuine faith, and He will ultimately establish His kingdom on earth.

These are truths that we are to rest in and take to heart. Faith gives soulful balance to the preparations we make for what the future may bring tomorrow.

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