Blessing follows obedience, not the other way around.
I wish I had a dollar for every time, in thirty years of teaching, I’ve heard a student say something like this: “I’m applying for the nursing program, so I really need to get an A in this course.”
I’m all in favor of students earning As. What strikes me, though, is how people act as if their desire to enter some demanding area of study should dictate the grade I assign. They don’t seem to get it: You earn entry into that program–nursing, med school, whatever–because you did the hard work and had the ability necessary to gain those lofty grades.
Anybody can see the sense in that, but how often do we foolishly think that we should obey God only after He comes through with the blessings? It makes us sound like kidnappers on a cop show. “You leave the blessings where I say and then I’ll tell you where the obedience is!”
God doesn’t work that way. Or does He? As redeemed believers, we have already gained the greatest blessing we’ll ever see. How petty do we appear when we ask, “What have you done for me lately?” and wait for God to come through with the equivalent of a bowl of soup?
Obedience must come first. Otherwise it really isn’t obedience.
- In what area of your life do you find it hardest to put obedience first?
- What is an example of a time when God showered disproportionate blessings on you in response to your obedience?
- Pray that God will help you put obedience first in your heart and allow the blessing to follow as He sees fit.
What matters to you matters to Jesus.
People sometimes have a hard time keeping my grandsons separate. It’s easy to understand the confusion as they all three have a three-letter name that begins and ends with a vowel: Ira, Isa, and Uri. If you’d like a bit of help, let me explain that Ira is the one whom you’ll see walking around, almost all of the time, with a Rubik’s cube in his hand, its squares constantly clacking as he solves it, scrambles it, and then solves it again.
Although I think it is pretty cool that Ira can solve the traditional three-by-three cube in something like thirty seconds, I honestly have no interest in learning the various algorithms and patterns necessary to move beyond dumb luck.
On the other end of the scale, Ira is utterly obsessed with the crazy things. He owns practically every type of cube (and other shapes) available. The highlight of his summer will be coming up this weekend as he travels to Des Moines for a competition.
Who knew there were Rubik’s cube competitions? They have all manner of events and their own star system. Ira today described himself as a “peasant” in the cubing world.
As I said, I have no interest in cubing, but I have an interest in Ira. That’s why I don’t mind supporting him in this, paying for entries, and so forth.
How much more does Jesus care about the minutiae of our lives. If it matters to me, then it matters to Him. Why would I keep it to myself?
- Are there aspects of your life that you believe are too trivial to involve Jesus with? Why?
- What else might keep you from allowing Jesus to take an interest in what matters to you?
- Examine your life and systematically open every part of it to the One who is your greatest advocate.
It’s not the problem you face but how you face the problem.
We used to spend a good deal of time with Pat, a woman who had an endless string of problems. Perhaps you know someone who seems to always have a terrible crisis coming down the road, but actually that wasn’t Pat. While she thought that she had an endless string of problems, what she really had was a steady flow of fairly insignificant matters, many of them created by her own folly.
“My supervisor complained that I made too many personal calls!”
“The bank repossessed my car, and now I can’t get to the casino.”
I listened and gritted my teeth. Finally, one day, as she cursed “my luck” because something really important–I think maybe her toaster quit working–had marred her day, I had listened to enough.
“Trent is paralyzed,” I noted.
Trent, a father of two, had gone from a capable, active young man to a hopelessly paralyzed fellow in a motorized wheelchair in the course of a few weeks. His wife didn’t know how they could pay for their house, pay for his care, or raise their daughters.
All the while that Pat complained about her luck, Trent and his family kept as strong an outlook as you could hope. I’d be lying if I said they didn’t experience some dark days, but mostly they kept their faces toward Christ throughout the worst of times.
Pat, I’m afraid, kept her face toward the toaster. I’m sure I needn’t mention that her outcome was less satisfactory.
- What is the biggest problem that you are facing at the present?
- Do you find it easy or difficult to turn first to Jesus in the face of problems great and small?
- Ask God to assist you in making your problems His problems.
Discovering God’s plan requires vulnerability.
Here’s Saul–mighty, mighty Saul–blind and led by the hand into the city where he intended to round up those pesky Christians. Saul was a powerful man, a man on the rise. Named after a king of Israel, a magnificent physical specimen and, at least at first, a successful king, Saul probably reveled in the glow of that name.
Saul knew his Torah. He knew the interpretations and the teachings and everything else. He had things figured out. He was a powerful young man with the prospect of becoming more powerful still. Yet here he is, knocked to the ground with his understanding of the universe lying in shattered pieces about his feet. He couldn’t see them, of course, having been blinded.
After having things figured out so well, Saul’s experience outside Damascus must have been devastating. God’s plan for Saul did not change when Saul lost his sight, but Saul’s ability to accept that plan did change. Could the self-satisfied, know-it-all Saul have possibly received that plan before the Damascus road? I don’t think so. I think he needed to be literally and figuratively knocked to the ground and made vulnerable.
To his credit, Saul didn’t just roll up in a ball of self protection. Instead, he yielded his vulnerable self. “What do you want me to do?”
What worked for him can work for us.
- In what part of your life do you find it most difficult to allow yourself to be vulnerable?
- Think of a time when you have yielded yourself and allowed God to make His plans more clear to you.
- Pray that God will use your weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the coming days.
God’s purpose depends on your humility.
Weird Al Yankovic isn’t the most spiritual guy in the world, but I have to confess to enjoying his parodies of popular songs. In one of them, “Amish Paradise,” a send-up of “Gangsta’s Paradise,” he employs a fairly obvious but still delightful little joke.
Think you’re really righteous? Think you’re pure at heart?
Well I know I’m a million times as humble as thou art.
Humility is a tough virtue. Read down the list of virtues–say the fruits of the spirit–and you’ll find that most of them can be perverted by the wrong spirit. You can be generous in order to impress other people with your generosity, for example. But is there another virtue that seems to just naturally defeat itself.
And still, humility is essential in the Christian life. Our walk with Christ has to start with humility. I have to recognize that I am not as pure and righteous as I’d like to think myself. I have to recognize that my problem with sin is one that I cannot solve myself.
I manifest a bit of humility and then suddenly I find myself taking pride in my humility. It’s tough, but it is essential.
If I’m going to learn God’s plan for my life, I have to put myself and my pride deep in the cellar. I have to accept that He is greater than me, remembering that every moment of the day. Or at least as much as I can. It’s hard, like I said.
- What parts of your life make it hardest for you to be humble?
- Are there areas in your life where you have justified pride? Is that possible?
- Pray that God will help you to have whatever measure of genuine humility you can manage this week.