From John Calvin:
“No one gives himself freely and willingly to God’s service unless, having tasted his fatherly love, he is drawn to love and worship Him in return.”
From John Calvin:
“No one gives himself freely and willingly to God’s service unless, having tasted his fatherly love, he is drawn to love and worship Him in return.”
In the first few chapters of the book of Ezekiel, the prophet records what it was like for him to be called by God to serve as a prophet. Ezekiel’s situation was a little different than ours (he was an Old Testament prophet, living before the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, who had God’s direct words to speak and write), and yet, there are some real parallels and things to learn for anyone who wants to serve God and speak for him in our generation. I ran across a helpful summary of these lessons in Daniel Block’s commentary on Ezekiel. This is a little long, but I encourage you to grab your bible and read Ezekiel 1:1-3:15, and then contemplate Block’s observations. Here they are:
If the account of Ezekiel’s inaugural vision provides the reader with important lessons about God, the commission narrative offers vital information on the relationship between God and those whom he calls into his service.
First, whoever would serve as a messenger of God must recognize that the calling comes from God alone. Neither the needs of the field, nor oratorical gifts, nor any other external qualifications authorize one to enter divine service. Moreover, the God who appoints his servants also defines the task, chooses the fields of service, provides the message, and assumes responsibility for the outcome. The less evident the fruit for one’s ministry, the more critical is a clear sense of calling.
Second, whoever would serve as God’s messenger must first have a clear vision of the one who sends him or her. Although Yahweh prepared Ezekiel for his ministry by hardening him commensurate with the hardness of his audience, the primary preparation occurred in chapter 1. Unless the servant of God enters divine service with a sense of awe at the privilege of representing the glorious King of heaven and earth, and unless one is convinced of God’s sovereignty over all the earth and over all of human history, the ministry may be a burden. Without a firm conviction of God’s call the ministry may be one’s undoing – especially when the opposition is strong and fruit is absent.
Third, whoever would serve as God’s messenger must be empowered by the Spirit of God. Ezekiel was “the prophet of the Spirit.” Animated and energized by the infusion of God’s Holy Spirit, he serves as a model to all who would stand in the Lord’s presence and all who would enter his service.
Fourth, whoever would serve as the messenger of God must be inspired by the message of God. To be sure, the personalities of God’s agents color the manner in which the calling is fulfilled. This was certainly the case with Ezekiel. But the prophet is primarily accountable to God and the divine word. Twice Ezekiel’s word is labeled “Thus has the Lord Yahweh declared” (2:4; 3:11); three times the prophet is charged to speak “my words” (2:7; 3:4, 10); three times he is told to ingest the divine message, which he is to proclaim (2:8; 3:10). Merely hearing the message is obviously not enough: it must be digested, internalized, incorporated, embodied, and lived. The medium becomes the message. Furthermore, the message of God’s spokespersons derives not from private reasoning or logic, or from mystical reflection, but from revelation. Even so, prophetic “inspiration” does not cancel out or overwhelm natural abilities and qualities – it uplifts and quickens them.
Fifth, whoever would serve as the messenger of God will be divinely equipped commensurate with the calling. God is aware of the challenges his agents face. When he assigns a task, he assumes responsibility for preparing them for that work. Indeed, God’s call to service is not made on the basis of gifts, but vice versa; gifts are given on the basis of the assignment.
Sixth, whoever would serve as the messenger of God must recognize that the calling is not to success but to faithfulness. Every aspect of vocational service remains under the sovereign control of God, especially the results. Accordingly, apparent effectiveness is no proof of calling, nor even a sure criterion by which to measure faithfulness. The messenger embarks on his or her mission as an emissary of the divine King. That privilege alone should provide sufficient motivation for unconditional service.
Some food for thought. In what ways might God be calling you to serve him this year? …with your life? How do these biblical principles apply to your situation?
Maybe you’re one of those people whose brain always works right. But for most of us, we have times when, to put it mildly, weird thoughts come into our heads. Richard Baxter offers some helpful advice on what to do about that…
None of God’s servants are free of inconsistent and sinful thoughts.
For such thoughts, they must:
But if they should excessively attend to and be troubles by every groundless thought, it would merely be a snare to divert them from almost all their greater duties. Would you like it if your employee began noticing and worrying about insignificant imperfections in his work instead of doing his work?
In other words:
One of the most obvious aspects of a lot of contemporary Western Christianity (American, Australian, European) is the emphasis on feelings and emotions. All you have to do is look at the lyrics to popular worship songs, listen to many sermons, or witness many Christian concerts and worship services to see what a huge part of our Christianity we deem our emotions to be. The picture of true Christianity that many paint is the picture of someone who is always emotionally engaged and filled with things like visceral love and passion. We want tidal waves, not ripples.
But what happens when you don’t really have those feelings for God or the Christian life? Or what if you do sometimes, but not other times? Can you walk with Jesus when the emotions aren’t running high? What about when you feel your passion ebb? Or what about if you are just more of an even-keeled person? Are you less spiritual than the person who’s emotional dial always seems to be at 10?
Once again, here’s Richard Baxter with some sound insight. He notes that it is true that, at some point, passion for God is part of serving God(that’s what he means by our “duty”). And yet, he says…
Do not value too highly the passionate aspect of duty, but understand this: judgment, will, practice, high esteem of God and holiness, resolute choice, and sincere endeavor are the life of grace and duty; felt emotions are lesser and uncertain things.
You don’t know what you do when you so emphasize the emotional aspect, or when you strive so much for deep and transcendent revelations. These are not the important things or the essentials of holiness. Too much of such feelings may distract you. God knows how much you are able to bear. Passionate feelings depend considerably upon nature [meaning, our personal natures]. Some persons are more expressive than others. A little thing affects some deeply. The wisest and most worthy persons are usually the least passionate. The weakest hardly control their feelings. [The editor notes here: “I believe Baxter is here arguing for self-control, not absence of expressed emotions.”]
God is not apprehended by our sense, and therefore is better experienced through the understanding and will than through the emotions.
Notice Baxter’s discussion of these three points. If, in our day, many assume that God is best “apprehended” by our emotions, what are we missing if the truth is that we also need our understanding and (think about it!) our will to truly know God as well? In fact, what word is most used when people talk about what Baxter seems to mean by “apprehending”? Isn’t usually the word experience? There is a lot of talk (and singing) about experiencing God, but it is typically only speaking about an emotional experience with God. But by “apprehending,” Baxter means something more like grasp or lay hold of or know relationally. And all that includes, not less, but more, than emotions. He continues:
The holiest soul is the one most inclined toward God, resolved for him, and conformed to his will, not the one affected with the deepest griefs, and fears, and joys, and other such transporting emotions.
Even if it’s becoming common in many circles to define holiness by the perceived depth of emotional experience revolving around God, this is a great reminder not to have our views of God colored by all of that. And yet, Baxter is not saying emotions are worthless. He just wants to encourage all of us who aren’t often surfing the tidal waves of feelings…
Nevertheless, it would be best if holy emotions could be stirred up at will, to a degree that would best equip is for duty.
But I have known many who complain, for lack of deeper feelings, who if their feelings (as they call their emotions) had been more intense, might have been distracted. I would rather be a Christian who loathes himself for sin, resolves against it, and forsakes it (though he cannot cry over it) than one of those who can weep today and sin again tomorrow, one whose sinful emotions are as quickly stirred as his better ones.
What great insight! Don’t worry about your emotional level. God knows what each of us can handle in terms of feelings. Better to actually grow in holiness (for instance, in getting sin out of our lives) than to experience huge emotions that can flip either way.
You know that moment in Exodus 14 where Israel got to the edge of the Red Sea, only to realize that Pharaoh had showed up with his army, and wanted to re-enslave them? Moses gave a great quick speech right then:
Do not be afraid.
Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today.
For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever.
Victor Hamilton has some great thoughts on the moment, and on Moses’ decision to tell the people not to be afraid:
Moses’ comforting words to the people, “Do not be afraid,” are the same words even Israel’s great ancestors needed to hear when they had their backs against a wall: Abraham (Gen 15:1), Isaac (26:24), Jacob (46:3) and Hagar too (21:17).
All these fears that God addresses are normal and real. They are not illusory. God does not lie to us about danger; nor does he plant in us the idea that they are figments of our imagination.
What he reminds us is that in order for these frightening situations to get to us, they will first have to get past him.
We can rest, not because of the absence of danger, but because of a God in whom we can trust.
Here is Gregory the Great, commenting on Matthew 25:19-24…
“After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them… Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.'”
The third servant was unwilling to work with his talent. He returned to his master with his talent. He returned to his master with words of excuse: “Master, I knew that you are hard man reaping where you have not sown, gathering where you have not scattered; being afraid, I went away and hid your talent in the earth. Here it is; see, you have what is yours.” The useless servant called his master hard, and yet he neglected to serve him for profit. He said that he was afraid to invest the talent for interest, when he should have been afraid only of bringing it back to his master without interest.
For many people in the church resemble that servant.
They are afraid to attempt a better way of life, but not of resting in idleness. When they think about the fact that they are sinners, the prospect of grasping the ways of holiness alarms them, but they feel no fear at remaining in their wickedness. Peter is a good example. When he was still weak, he saw the miracle of the fishes and said, “Depart from me, O Lord, because I am a sinful man.”
If you regard yourself as a sinner, it is only right that you not drive God away from you! But those who see that they are weak and are for this reason unwilling to improve their habits or way of life are like people admitting that they are sinners and at the same time banishing God. They flee him whom they ought to hallow in themselves; even in the agony of death they so not know where to turn and cling to life.
A lot to think about there…
Is it spiritual for followers of Jesus to examine themselves–to check the state of their walk with Christ in light of scripture? Of course. But can this be overdone? Can it become a distraction, and an unhealthy preoccupation? Could it actually keep us from heartily following Jesus if we’re over-focused on ourselves? Sure. What’s the antidote if you ever find yourself in that situation?
Remember that it is a far higher, nobler, and sweeter work to think of God, Christ, and heaven than of such worms as we ourselves are. When we look down into ourselves, we look into a dungeon, a prison, a wilderness, a place of darkness, horror, filthiness, misery, and confusion. Therefore, though such thoughts are necessary, in that without them our repentance and due watchfulness cannot be maintained, yet they are grievous, ignoble, and even fruitless in comparison with our thoughts of God.
When you pour over the contents of your heart to search whether or not the love of God is there, it would be wiser to think of the infinite friendliness of God. That will stir up love of God, whether it was there before.
So instead of trying so hard to read your heart to know whether it is fixed upon heaven, lift up your thoughts to heaven and think of its glory. That will raise your heart heavenward and give you and show you what you were searching for.
Devote time to plant holy desires in the garden of your heart, time that you presently spend probing and examining yourself while hoping to discern if those desires are there.
We are such darkened, confused creatures that the sight of ourselves is enough to provoke loathing and a horror in our minds, and to contribute to melancholy. But in God and glory there is nothing to discourage our thoughts and everything to delight them if Satan does not manage to misrepresent him to us.
This is great counsel, and it seems to follow in the steps of words like these:
“We do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…”
If you’re depressed or discouraged about your spiritual life, or your rate of spiritual growth, maybe it’s better for you to stop thinking about it, and look to Jesus, think about him, and get busy doing his will instead.
Here’s an interesting look at Romans 8:26, in which Paul writes:
“Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”
Richard Longenecker writes:
In this first sentence of 8:26, Paul acknowledges that “human weakness” is a dominant feature in the lives of all people, including every believer in Jesus. Such a weakness stems not only from the fact that as creatures we are finite and frail, but also from our irrevocable history of sin and depravity. Most disastrously, it becomes a controlling factor in all our lives because of our personal choices in confirming our irrevocable human history by our own sinful thoughts and actions.
So in our prayers—which reflect our desires, express our values, and reveal what we believe to be our resources—we are not insightful enough to know what we ought to pray for. And what is true about what should be the subject of our prayers is also true, Paul seems to imply, about the living of our lives generally.
That’s great. This “weakness” is common, in fact it is a dominant feature in the lives of all people. It is not initially our fault—since we inherit a history and personal weaknesses and we arrive in the world with deficits already on our account, which we didn’t produce. However, we confirm that weakness through our own sinful choices, and therefore it becomes a controlling factor in our lives. And this even affects our prayer life. But, is that the end of the story? No, of course, for many reasons. Romans 8:26 is one of the places in scripture that show us the way forward. Longenecker continues:
This in the first sentence of the passage Paul sets out his thesis with respect to this third implication of being “in Christ” and of living one’s life “in the Spirit”: “the Spirit also helps us in our weakness.”
Why is prayer hard? Because of our general human weakness. What is God’s answer? Himself—in the person of His Holy Spirit, who knows the mind of God (because he is God) and knows what we need and really should ask (since he’s in us)—and who prays for us.
In his forward to Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life, J.I. Packer makes some interesting observations about the what Puritan pastors in 17th-century England worked to try to foster in the people who attended their churches. Their focus, he writes, began with promoting:
…a regenerative conversation (faith in Christ, Godward repentance, assurance of justifying acceptance and adoption into God’s family, worshipful communion with the Father and the Son, and daily obedience to God’s law by the power of the Holy Spirit).
That was the beginning they encouraged people to experience. Then:
Christian life as such would then take the form of love and service (good works) in family, church, and society, monitored by conscience pursing its two concerns.
Notice the two main concerns Puritan Pastors urged on their congregations:
Concern number one was the discerning of duty, that is, the specifics of God’s biblically revealed will for each day’s action.
Concern number two was self-examination or self-search, the regular reviewing of one’s motives and actions to make sure that one was living as a real believer and not a self-deluded “gospel hypocrite,” as pew sitting formalists were sometimes called.
Though number two can be carried too far (no one should sit around worrying they are a fake Christian), both concerns can be extremely helpful to remember for growth in our Christian life. First–we should most definitely take time regularly to think about where we are in life and what God requires of us based on our situation–and if we’re actually being faithful to do those things. Second–we shouldn’t just assume we’re on point spiritually–we probably want to “get real” with our selves from time to time. Am I authentic? Am I in private what I am in public? Am I in thought what I am in word and what I am in deed? What most excites me? …motivates me? …moves me?
The Puritans viewed life as a landscape crisscrossed by many paths, of which one must always seek to discern and follow the most God-honoring, which will be the wisest and best for others and oneself. Casuistry was the Puritan name for study of the principles for making this choice each time, and conflict with the world, the flesh, and the Devil was understood to be involved in actually doing that.
“Casuistry” (I think it’s pronounced KAZ-ew-is-tree) is probably not a word you’ve used before. But do you get the concept? Don’t we all need to grow in our ability to make wise decisions–in fact, the wisest–the decisions that will be best for ourselves and others? And aren’t these things worthy of effort to study, understand, and improve?
Samuel James has an excellent article on a needed topic: How to Leave Porn Behind. James writes:
The sin of pornography goes much deeper than the singular moments of watching and downloading. It’s about entire daily patterns of unbelief, laziness, self-absorption, and much more. Thus, repentance from enslavement to pornography must seek more than behavior modification in one isolated habit. It must be a resolve to bring every piece of the heart’s architecture, every beat of the rhythm of life, into the light of the gospel.
Many Christian men are fighting a losing battle with pornography because they are trying to remove the sin without adopting a radical lifestyle of repentance. They know their spiritual lives would be sweeter without giving way to lust. They know their capacity for rich relationships with other believers would expand tenfold if they weren’t smothered by midnight shame. They know their Godward ambitions for vocation and missions and pastoring are being squashed by it.
They really do want it gone, but they want everything else to stay where it is — and then they are perplexed why it just won’t work, even with accountability partners and internet filters. It won’t work long-term because this is not how God designed us.
James is on point when he writes about the need to adopt a “radical lifestyle of repentance.” He points out that if you really want victory, you might need to change your job, your friends, your hobbies, the entire way you spend your “free time,” and more. Another way to say all this would be to say, you can’t selectively obey Jesus. It doesn’t work. You can only defeat one sin by resolving to repent of all sin. When we’re really ready to defeat “that one thing” that embarrasses, or weakens, or plagues us, we have to lay our whole life on the table before the Lord and say, “Ok, have your way in everything.”
The teaching of Christ that always comes to my mind on this issue is:
“If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.”
…and it just begs the question: if Jesus would say this about a hand, and we can kind of know that he’s going over the top to make a point, isn’t it clear that he would definitely say this to us about the things that we might keep in our life which lead us to sin?
If your phone helps you sin, don’t have a smart phone.
If your friends always lead you to sin, deal with it, or change your friends.
If your gaming ends up in sin, stop gaming.
If your TV, movies, or internet, or social media time lead you to sin, cancel the service, delete the accounts, and just stop watching things.
If you won’t stop sinning with your boyfriend or girlfriend, break up with them.
Isn’t that exactly what the application of Matthew 5:30 should be?
I encourage you to read the whole article. And, wherever necessary, do whatever it takes to have Jesus, and not sin, as your Lord.