Be transformed by the constant renewing of your mind. - Romans 12:2
In any sort of physical training, complacency is the bitterest of enemies. While the temptation to back off, ease up, or tone it down is always strong, the best athletes are able to challenge and defeat the inner voice that tells them that comfort is their friend. These athletes know that if you're not moving forward, you're moving backward. The reason? Without constant stimulus to grow and adapt, our muscles naturally atrophy. Over time, this process leads to the degrading of our strength.
In matters of faith, the same principle applies. Complacency in our pursuit of God is our enemy. Scripture is clear that followers of Christ live in a constant war between our sinful flesh and the Spirit of God. Without constant training in righteousness, sin causes our hearts to decay. We become numb to God's communication, becoming progressively weaker.
Paul's commandment was clear: be transformed by constantly renewing your mind in Christ. Do not grow complacent in your study of Scripture, devotion to prayer, or service to Christ. Physical training is nothing without intense, regular workouts. Our Spiritual training is the same. Today, choose not to be idle and, instead, invest yourself in the Word, prayer, and service to Christ. Ignore the siren call of our flesh to pursue comfort and ease. Kill your apathy!
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:16-17 ESV)
"And when Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. Then Saul said to his servants, 'Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her'" (1 Samuel 28:6-7).
Saul is a Biblical character that (at times) I have a lot of sympathy for. At the end of the first book of Samuel, it seems like he's trying to make things right with the LORD. He drives out the necromancers and sorcerers from the land, which is the good thing, and seeks the LORD's counsel when battle approaches.
Now, to be clear, his intentions are unknown, and it's impossible to tell if he was genuine. We have no way of knowing if this was a front or a last ditch effort to save face after repeatedly straying from God's commands. What we do know is that Saul had a tendency of looking out for himself first.
Regardless, God had departed from Saul because of his pattern of faithfulness to God's commands, and when Saul came seeking answers, God did not answer. That should be an initial warning to each of us that faithlessness to God's commandments separates us from Him, and it IS possible to grow so far from the LORD that we can no longer hear His voice.
In the absence of any response from God, Saul takes matters into his own hands (proving that he really had not actually changed) and sought out a medium to help him seek counsel from the spirit of Samuel. Saul would have known full well that any form of necromancy, divination, or sorcery is disgusting to God (Leviticus 19:31), but in his crisis, he was was desperate for any sort of counsel to fill the silence of God's voice.
In times for great crisis and distress, where do you turn for counsel? Do you desperately wait on God's voice to provide guidance? Or, like Saul, do you quickly turn aside to other counselors? Are you patient in listening for the voice of God, or do you take matters into your own hand, seeking out input from other voices? Saul's self-reliance was ultimately his undoing.
If we are faithful to wait on the LORD to answer us when we pray, He will always be faithful. Those who are in Christ can have complete confidence that the LORD hears us and will act for our good and His glory. Check out the joy in the conclusion of David's prayer:
"Blessed be the LORD!
Reading: James 3:1-12
Big change always starts with small compromises. Over time, governments fall, cultures shift, technologies evolve; generally, these happen incrementally. Little-by-little, change marches on.
So with our lives, the little choices about what we say and do, who we'll spend time with today, all of these things add up to chart the course and direction of our character, and eventually, our souls. "Look what a great forest can be set ablaze," Paul says, "by such a small fire." Our tongue, a relatively small member, plays a great role in steering our actions and character.
Paul's instructions are serious: be cautious, deathly cautious, of the words you speak. They bear the power of great destruction or great life, and the fruit of what we speak reveals the character of our hearts. A man whose heart is absent the redemption of Jesus will pour forth poison from his mouth. A heart filled with the Spirit of Christ will speak life that builds up others in love. Jesus said as much Himself:
"Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks."
Who you are will reveal itself in how you speak. Seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit every day so that your words might set this world on fire with a holy fire, with passion for Jesus. Remember that His Spirit has given us the power of self control (2 Tim 1:7). Fan into flame the spirit of God within you so that you may be a firestarter; one that sets this world ablaze with the love and truth of Christ for His glory and praise!
"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" [Galatians 5:1 ESV]
It seems like pretty simple advice, really. Paul commands the Galatians not to willingly put themselves back in slavery now that Christ has made them free. Under normal circumstances, this shouldn't be too difficult a task for us. After all, who would want to make themselves a slave? Even more so, who would want to make themselves a slave again after tasting freedom? It's absurd, illogical, and ridiculous. You'd have to be crazy.
But the advice is necessary. As humans, we've got a vision problem. Consider the example of the Israelites. Remember how God did incredible miracles to save them from Egypt and grant them freedom from the abusive slavery of the Egyptians? Well, check out their attitude in Numbers 14:
"Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, 'Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.'" [v. 4-6]
So, they were saved from brutal slavery, granted their freedom by a loving God who revealed Himself to them, and were promised a new homeland that would meet all their needs so they could worship the LORD forever, and they're complaining. Why? Because the food was better. Honestly.
In the heat of the moment, when things got tough, the Israelites lost sight of reality. Their perspective was wrecked because of the trials they were in the midst of. They were so fixated on the moment, on their own desire for the comforts and pleasures of their old lives, that they took for granted all that God had done for them. They were so focused on what they were living without that they could no longer appreciate what they'd been set free from.
As people who have made the choice to follow Jesus with our lives, we are many times just like the Israelites. We often are quick to forget what Christ set us free from. We forget about the pain and the misery of life without God; the shame of sin, the emptiness of chasing our own desires rather than His. We forget about what life was like before Jesus freed us from slavery. Don't allow poor vision to deceive you into this type of thinking. Forgiveness is freedom. Stand firm in what Christ has done for you. Put on the glasses of His Word each day so the Holy Spirit can correct our vision and keep our focus on the joy that Jesus has set you free for.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us tun with endurance th race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." [Hebrews 12:1-3 ESV]
What do you expect from Jesus? Seems like a selfish question to begin with. We're not supposed to come to Him because we expect things from Him. We're supposed to follow Him because, well, He said to.
But with Jesus, it's important to evaluate our expectations. In other words, what is our vision for Christ's action in our lives? I think complacency in our walk with Christ, as well as in our personal ministry to others, comes from losing sight of what Christ is capable of doing. We stop expecting. We stop anticipating. We stop dreaming of something bigger. We stop seeing possibilities for God to do the impossible all around us each day. Predictably, we stop being excited about Christ because we stop expecting Him to do things that are exciting in and through us.
"Complacency in our walk with Christ, as well as in our personal ministry to others, comes from losing sight of what Christ is capable of doing."
In John 1, Jesus called Phillip to come and follow Him. Phillip, recognizing Jesus as the Messiah that Scripture had promised, sought out his friend Nathanael and invited him to "come and see" Jesus. Nathanael's tongue in cheek reaction, "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" is comical, but also telling of his expectations. Nathanael saw only the earthly circumstances of Jesus' identity, and his expectations were low.
Jesus shatters Nathanael's skeptical expectations by revealing Himself to Nathanael in a greater way. He tells Nathanael something that He could not have possibly known except by divine omniscience. Understandably, Nathanael is amazed, immediately convinced of Jesus' identity. Here's where it really gets interesting: Jesus tells Nathanael not to be impressed by what he's already seen, but to expect things that are even greater. Jesus isn't done. He's just getting started, and Nathanael (as well as the other disciples), should expect Jesus to reveal His power in even more earth-shattering ways.
Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” (John 1:50 ESV)
As disciples of Jesus, where is our focus? What are our expectations of Jesus? Do we lead others like we are expecting Jesus to do something amazing? Do we take chances, step out in radical faith, pray for God to do the impossible in the lives of people around us? I'm convinced that our expectations for Jesus are not big enough. Jesus wants us to dream big. Stop looking around you and start holding onto the promise of Jesus: "You will see greater things."
Later, in John 14, when explaining to the disciples that He will be leaving them, Jesus makes an astounding promise, explaining that if anyone believes in Him, they will do greater things than Jesus Himself. Again, the benchmark for our expectations is not what we have already seen, but what is yet to come. Why? Because Christ is now sitting at the right hand of the God, PLEADING with Him on our behalf to give us that for which we pray (when we ask in His name). Jesus, our advocate, is working to employ God's power on our behalf as we go about doing the work of His Kingdom here on earth.
Just to make a clarification: there are those who twist this promise to mean that whatever we ask for, regardless of motive, God will give us. These people abuse what Jesus said to convince them that Jesus is a means to wealth, health, and whatever else our selfish hearts desire. Jesus makes it clear that this promise is for us as we do HIS work. When we seek God's Kingdom by making disciples and preaching the Gospel, we can expect Him to fulfill. He's not a heavenly sugar daddy, and to make Him just a resource to abuse for our own comfort and gain is not only wrong, it perverts and distorts the Gospel, as though Jesus' brutal, atoning death was simply to make sure we'd have an easy ride here on earth. Those who teach such things can be assured that they will be held accountable for leading others astray.
That said, Jesus' direction for us is consistent: don't be satisfied with what has already been done. Be thankful. Praise God for what He's already accomplished, but let us never be content as we look ahead. Expect God to start throwing mountains. Expect Him to move Heaven and Earth. He's not finished. He's just getting started.
As we reach out to the world around us, let's get impossible. Let's pray and act like we KNOW we serve a God who's ready to shatter expectations. As I lead students, I want to have an attitude that expects Jesus to impact students and reach them in impossible ways. Let's have a vision for our ministries and our personal walks with Christ that we are going to see Heaven's power punch through into every situation we encounter and in the lives of people around us to bring them to a fuller revelation of Himself! Praise be to Jesus for a confident hope in the radical and impossible!
"Expect God to start throwing mountains. Expect Him to move Heaven and Earth. He's not finished. He's just getting started."
I am the Student Pastor at IGNITE Student Ministries in Green Bay, WI. Proud husband and father. Just trying to be more obedient to Jesus every day.
Note: These thoughts and opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Life Bridge Christian Church or its Student Ministries.