Today I finally put away the Christmas tree. Oh, it’s been down for a week or two, but putting it away was going to require climbing up in the mezzanine shelf in the garage and doing some organizing. Not my favourite kind of task. But I did it because I finally had the right motivation. Today my wife had put some extra work into how she looked. Now please don’t misunderstand me, on any normal day Wendy is a very attractive lady. But when a lady who looks as good as she did today asks her man to do a chore for her – any chore – let me tell you, that’s motivation! I actually wanted to put that tree away.
I’ve been thinking about motives for the past couple of days actually. Specifically as it relates to how a Christ Follower lives out his or her life. Sadly, through much of history the church has used duty, and failing that, guilt as one of its prime means of motivating people to live moral lives and be active in service in the church. To a degree it may seem to work, at least for a while, but ultimately it always fails. Plus you end up with a bunch of miserable people.
In John 12:32 Jesus declared that when he is lifted up he will draw all people to himself. The next verse tells us that in saying this he was indicating the kind of death he would die, but it also indicates the type of motivation Jesus uses. Notice that he doesn’t drive people to God, he himself draws them. When a person genuinely encounters the love of Jesus as expressed through the cross they are motivated to be near him, to do what will bring him joy and pleasure. That encounter occurs through us who are Christ Followers.
Now some will counter that conviction of sin has a role to play, and undoubtedly it does, but probably not the role that many of us assume. Unfortunately this article isn’t long enough for exploring that properly but perhaps another time. In the mean time, let me say this: Duty and guilt did nothing to motivate me to put the tree away, but the love of, and my love for my beautiful wife certainly did. Duty and guilt are not the means of motivation that Jesus uses and neither should we. Instead, let people see Christ in you.
Last night I went to the second session of the evaluation camp for the new Prairie Fire midget football team. As a Central Alberta team they will be drawing players all the way from Rocky to Stettler, and from Olds to Lacombe and maybe a few beyond. There were over 80 boys there last night (and one girl who held up very well against the guys) all being put through an hour long circuit of drills testing speed, strength, agility, and endurance.
It very quickly became apparent who had followed the coaches’ instructions at the previous camp in December, and had done some conditioning on their own. Those that had done the work in the weeks leading up to this camp were able to go from drill to drill and maintain the level of performance at each one. Their bodies were able to recover in the short time they had while moving between the stations. Those that had done little or no preparation dropped lower and lower in their performance levels till a number of them ended up having to sit on the sidelines unable to go on, while those who had worked especially hard pulled further and further ahead with each drill. (Trust me, this is not a criticism, just an observation from someone comfortable watching. I would have died out there.)
There are some very obvious life lessons that the kids learned last night, which is one of the reasons that I like football so much. But there are equally some significant spiritual lessons for all of us. If we haven’t put in the time and effort to learn how to differentiate the voice of God from all the other voices that clamour for our attention, our own included, if we haven’t learned how to rest in the strength that God’s spirit provides, if we haven’t practiced trusting in the Lord with all our hearts and not leaning on our own understanding, when the hard tests of life come we will be overwhelmed and exhausted long before we have come through them.
But here is something more: Every day is a test. No, not every day is a huge crisis. But every day there are people that need to encounter Jesus through the everyday lives and everyday intercessions us who are Christ followers. If we have put in the work of preparation we will recognize who God has intended for us to minister to and have the life of Jesus himself living through us to accomplish that ministry.
I have to admitt that I don’t enjoy excercise just for the sake of excercise. (As evidenced by my wife telling me to suck in my gut more often lately) But I have been told by some that working out actually becomes something they look forward to and really miss if they are have to skip a day. I’ve never experienced that, but I have found that my favorite time of the day is my spiritual work out. It wasn’t always that way, but as I have practiced and gotten better at it I genuinely hate to skip it – even when I’m on holidays. If you want some ideas on how to make your work out better, or maybe even how to start a spiritual work out, leave me a message and I’ll let you know some of what has been effective for me.
In 1 John 5:1-5 it says that anyone who believes that Jesus is the Son of God has overcome the world. In the context of the issue John was addressing, belief is understood to refer to more than simple intellectual assent. It includes acceptance of the forgiveness of our sin and a relationship with Jesus that his death and resurrection on our behalf made possible. So what does it mean to have overcome the world? From last week we know what it is to overcome, but how does a person overcome the world?
Usually when the Bible speaks of “the world” it is indicating the system by which the world operates. More specifically here it refers to the system(s) the world uses to know God, to please God, or to be like God. In Numbers 16 is the account of a group of Israelites who thought that they could come to God on their own terms instead of on God’s terms as given through to Moses. Moses said that by using a system of their own design they treated the Lord with contempt.
All the Old Testament regulations and terms for coming to God are fulfilled in Jesus and now it is through him that we know and relate to God. Any other system to reach or please God shows contempt for God. Therefore, if you believe Jesus is the Son of God you have overcome these systems and have eternal life and confidence to approach God himself!
As a result we can ask for anything God pleasing from God, knowing that he’s listening and, in listening, will give whatever it is we have asked for (verses 14-15). Now before you yell “Woo hoo! Jackpot!” have a look at the context immediately before and after this passage. It’s all about loving and serving each other, not ourselves. The promise to give us whatever we ask for is as much or more so our mission as it is a promise. In fact this is the real work of ministry to which each Christ follower has been assigned. It is to bring others before God and pray on their behalf for God’s plan in their lives.
And don’t use the cop-out phrase “Lord do such and such for this person, if it is your will.” The work here is to wrestle against our own ideas of what is best so that we can hear from God and know what is pleasing to God and then with confidence pray for that to be done. This is called intercession and it is the primary work of ministry for all Jesus followers.
I can remember as a kid flipping through the book of Proverbs to find the proverbs that sounded funny. One of my favourites was, “better to live on the corner of a roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.” I also liked one that was quoted by Jesus when he said to love your enemies and to do good to them. Mostly I liked it because it says that by doing this I would heap burning coals on the heads of my enemies. I thought this gave me a sneaky way to get revenge on my big brother, thereby completely missing the point of the proverb.
If I had looked at what Jesus said next I would have seen the directive to not be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good. Let me give you a visual of what overcome means. Wendy and I went to Hawaii with her folks for their 25th Anniversary. We were sitting on a beach together and she went into the water to cool off. She wasn’t far off shore but was about chest deep as the bottom dropped away sharply. Unfortunately she didn’t realise the significance of the water dropping to about knee level or my shouting and pointing before it was too late. A massive wave came out of “nowhere” and towered over her. She panicked and eyes wide with sudden terror tried to outrun the wave. You can imagine what happened: she was overcome by the wave. (By the way if this happens to your wife, for the love of Pete, don’t let her see you laughing when she crawls out of the foam gasping and sputtering, hair in her face and sand everywhere!)
That’s the picture (the wave, not my poor wife) that Jesus had in mind; an irresistible wave of love and mercy and grace overcoming everyone in its path. The problem is that if you try to live like that on the strength of your own love, mercy and grace you will be the one overcome. The first couple of verses of 1 John 5 tell us that anyone born of God overcomes the world. Jesus overcame the world by living his life in submission to God’s spirit within him and that’s the only way we will overcome as well. Next week I hope to explore “overcoming the world” a little more. Till then go dump some coals on someone.