Seeking Great Things

Love and compassion urged Jesus forward when everything within His earthly body cried for Him to turn back..png

In yesterday’s devotion, I laid my heart bare about my current season of life and how I found peace in learning some new things about having joy in the journey. If you didn’t get the chance to read it, I urge you to do so because, in today’s devotion, I want to pick up where I left off and share with you a couple of other Bible passages the Lord has used to encourage my heart. Let’s begin in the book of Jeremiah.

The word that Jeremiah the prophet spake unto Baruch the son of Neriah, when he had written these words in a book at the mouth of Jeremiah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, saying, Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel, unto thee, O Baruch: Thou didst say, Woe is me now! for the Lord hath added grief to my sorrow; I fainted in my sighing, and I find no rest. Thus shalt thou say unto him, The Lord saith thus; Behold, that which I have built will I break down, and that which I have planted I will pluck up, even this whole land. And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not: for, behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh, saith the Lord: but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest.
— Jeremiah 45:1-5

As you can see from this chapter, Baruch had an “I” problem. Woe is me. My grief. My sorrow. I fainted. My sighing. I have no rest. Poor pitiful me! Unfortunately, I hear my own cries and complaints echoing in my ears, so truth be told, I’m no better than Baruch. I’ve been so wrapped up in my personal disappointment and discontentment that I’ve failed to see the needs of those around me. As the Lord put it in the passage above, I’ve been seeking great things for myself. “Who cares about anyone else? So what if people are lost and going to hell? I’m not happy with the way things are going. Poor pitiful me!”  I cringe as I type these words. Though these thoughts have not been in the forefront of my mind, they’ve been there nonetheless as has been proven by my actions and my self-consuming prayers. God, forgive me!

Before I go any further, let me say I truly believe God wants to bless us. He gives us far, far more than we deserve. But God never promised us a happy life. He never assured us we’d never suffer or feel disappointment or grief. In fact, He promised just the opposite (John 16:33). The point I want to get across is, God is not cruel. Life is hard because we live in a sin-cursed world. It’s not God’s fault. It’s ours. But despite that, God goes above and beyond to provide for our needs and even many of our wants because He’s a good, loving Father.

That being said, we saw in yesterday’s devotion how even Jesus became fearful and overwhelmed at the prospect of His crucifixion and all that it entailed. While He was willing to do His Father’s will, He wasn’t exactly happy about the circumstances. It wasn’t a joyful season of life to experience.

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
— Hebrews 12:2

This is a familiar verse, but don’t overlook the words used to describe Jesus’ emotional state. He endured the cross. He despised the shame. Endured and despised. Boy, can I relate to those words? I’ve been enduring a lot lately—going through the motions of doing what needs to be done and trying my best to do so with a good attitude. And I’ve despised the person I’ve become through this season. Cautious. Critical. Cynical. That’s not me. That’s not who I want to be.  

But I want you to notice another phrase within that verse: “for the joy that was set before him.” Not the joy He was experiencing by obeying the Father. Not the joy He felt at laying down His life and suffering agony on the cross. Not the joy of being a good Son. It wasn’t a present joy; it was a joy to come. The joy of defeating Death and Hell. The joy of holding up the keys of Hell in victory. The joy of being reunited with His Father. And last, but certainly not least, the joy of living in eternity with us.

Unlike Baruch, Jesus wasn’t seeking great things for Himself. He was seeking great things for us.  Jesus wasn’t so consumed with His own suffering that He turned His back on others. Instead, He used that love and compassion to keep Him moving forward when everything within His earthly body cried for Him to turn back. He envisioned a brighter day—not for Him, but for us, and that vision gave Him the strength to suffer. Yes, He endured. Yes, He despised. But in the end, He rejoiced, and He will continue to rejoice.

Lord, please help me be more like Jesus and less like Baruch. No matter how difficult the season or how weary I become, please help me keep my focus on others and not myself. Let my love and compassion for them drive me to obedience and surrender. And help me remember there is a brighter day coming!

No One Who Works for the Lord Will Go Unrewarded

We must be on guard for how things seem or feel because that is seldom a good indicator of how things truly are..png

After taking a short break to cover the attributes of the fruit of the Spirit, I want to get back into our study on the Negatives in the Bible and see if we can finish it up. We don’t have far to go (though if I covered all of them, we’d be doing this study for months.) Let’s pick back up with what the Bible has to say about “no one.”

Have you ever been disappointed when things didn’t turn out the way you had planned? I have. And probably the most disappointing of all are the situations where I’ve done all the right things in all the right ways with all the right motives, and things still didn’t work out. It’s enough to send this little redhead running toward chocolate cake!

Isn’t it frustrating to sow the seeds and feel like we’re not reaping the harvest? We diet and exercise but don’t lose the weight. We read our Bible and pray daily but still slip carelessly into sin. We take a restful vacation but come back more tired and stressed. The pastor puts his heart and soul into his preaching yet the people seem unaffected by what he has to say. The missionary spends years on the field, hard at work in the service of the Lord, yet has only a handful of converts to show for his efforts. What’s up with that?  

The Bible teaches the principle of sowing and reaping. We know how it’s supposed to work, but sometimes it doesn’t seem to apply to our lives or our current situation. So, we begin to doubt. Maybe this sowing and reaping stuff only works for certain people or at certain times. Perhaps I’m not doing all I should do or I’m not doing it the right way. Maybe I’ve missed something along the way, and that’s why I do not see results.

More than likely, it’s none of those things. It’s just that God doesn’t operate according to our schedule. We plant seeds today and expect to see a harvest by tomorrow or next week, but growth takes time. God won’t be rushed. He has a plan, and He will fulfill it in His own good time. This makes little sense to us.  After all, wouldn’t God want to see souls saved today? Doesn’t He long for us to have the desires of our hearts? Surely, He wants the pastor to feel appreciated and the missionary to be effective, right?

I’ve probably said this a million times in my writing and a million times more in my own life when trying to comfort my confused heart—God’s ways aren’t our ways, and His thoughts aren’t our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). What makes sense to Him often seems downright ridiculous to us because we can’t see the whole picture. And that can be discouraging. It’s disheartening when it seems our efforts aren’t paying off. Trust me, I know!

But God knows too, and He’s provided a promise for times like these—no one who acts in His name will be unrewarded. No one! If we have sowed in the name of the Lord, we will reap the rewards. If we have sacrificed our time or talents for Him, He’ll make sure we lack nothing. He’s keeping a record. He’s paying attention. He knows what seeds we are sowing, and He already has a plan on how He will reward those efforts. Check out these verses:

And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.
— Matthew 10:42
Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee. And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.
— Mark 10:28-30
 Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all and followed thee. And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.
— Luke 18:28-30

Serving God will cost us something. It is a sacrifice. There’s no doubt about it. But it also reaps rewards beyond our comprehension. Now, let me add here, we should never serve God merely for compensation but rather out of our love for Him. Service is a natural outflow of love. But even so, it can become wearying when those efforts seem for naught. Note that sentence carefully—the efforts seem like they’re not making a difference. We must be on guard for how things seem or feel because that is seldom a good indicator of how things truly are. That’s why it’s so important to cling to the truth. God made it clear that when we work in His name and for His kingdom that our work will not be in vain. Let’s take Him at His word and rejoice in the waiting time!


You Are What?

Albert einstein.png
And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?  And God said unto Moses, I Am That I Am: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I Am hath sent me unto you.
— Exodus 3:13-14

Poor Moses! God called him out of his comfort zone. . .way out! Moses was a shepherd, far more at home with animals than people (a bit like myself, actually). Sheep were easy. Sure, they weren't the smartest of animals, but at least they did what they were told and didn't complain in the process. Moses could handle sheep. He wasn't so sure about people. So he did what we all do when God tries to coax us out of our comfort zones—he made excuses.

But I'm not qualified.

But I don't have the right credentials.

But that's not really my talent.

But I don't think that's the best use of my time.

But I can't communicate well.

But I had something else in mind.

But I don't see where that would be very profitable for me.

When will we learn that our excuses aren't going to change God's mind or His will for our lives? Moses learned right there on the spot. So when the excuses didn't work, he tried to stall. "Well, the people are going to want to know Who sent me. They'll know I didn't come on my own. They'll know there's Someone greater behind this plan. They'll want to know who the real Mastermind is. What shall I tell them?"

Surely such a broad question would require a vast answer, right? Nope! God simply replied, "I AM."

I can see the look of confusion on Moses' face. You are what? The word "am" is a state of being. When it is used, it is followed by another word—the state of being. I am happy. I am tired. I am hungry. I am frustrated. I am crazy. That state of being explains how we're feeling and sometimes even who we are. I am Dana. I am a writer. I am a worrier. I am a dog owner.

But God didn't give a state of being. To Moses, it may have seemed that God stopped mid-sentence or maybe that God paused to think of the proper way to finish the sentence. But such was not the case. God had said all that He was going to say. "I AM. That's all you need to know."

Perhaps God could have even answered the question as the wizard, Merlin, did in the BBC show, The Adventures of Merlin. The eccentric old wizard was outraged when two guards questioned his identity. "Who am I?" he inquired. "What kind of stupid question is that? I am who I am, and I am who I was, and I am who I always will be."

Sounds like God, doesn't it? He is Who He is, and He is Who He was, and He is Who He always will be. He's God. There is none like Him. He has always been God. He will always be God. He is the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. He is the Three in One. He is the Creator. He is the Redeemer. He is our Counselor. He is our Shepherd. He is loving. He is kind. He is just. He is merciful.

By the time God listed all of His names and characteristics to Moses, the shepherd would have died of old age. Besides, God doesn't waste words. He says what needs to be said and leaves it at that. With those two simple words, "I AM," God bespoke a fathomless message: "Whatever you need. . . I AM!"

Even the sheep understand that.