The Fruit of Patience

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“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

– Romans 8:22-25 (NIV)

“Hope that is seen is no hope at all” – We can’t hope in what we can see. We hope in what we cannot see. We hope in what is yet to come. And because we hope, we wait. We wait patiently. We wait confidently. The word patiently in Romans 8:25 can also be translated as to wait eagerly, or to expect fully. When you are waiting eagerly for something, or fully expecting something to happen, what do you do? You prepare for it.

Think about a child on Christmas Eve. They’ll set out the cookies and milk out for Santa. They’ll brush their teeth and put on their pajamas. They’ll go through the bedtime routine more willingly than any other night of the year. Even though their excitement level is enough to keep them up all night, they know they have to go to sleep in order for Santa to show up. They expect it. They’re eager for it to happen – so they prepare for it.

Think about someone getting ready for a date, or preparing for an interview. Up until the moment they’re walking up to the door, or when they’re inside waiting for the person to arrive, or waiting outside the office door – they’re preparing. They’re going over what they’re going to say, checking their hair and make-up in the mirror, adjusting their clothes, looking back over their resume one more time. They’re getting ready. They’re preparing. Maybe they’re excited, maybe they’re nervous, or maybe it’s a combination of both – but they’re feeling all the feelings because they’re eager. They’re expectant. They know what’s coming next, so they’re getting ready for it.

But what about when the thing we’re waiting on isn’t so positive? What if we aren’t so eager, but afraid of what’s coming next. Patience can also be translated as long-suffering. How do you exercise patience in those moments? What if you’re broken down on the side of the road? You’re waiting for someone to come help jump start your car or change your tire. You’re impatient because you’re ready for it to be fixed. You’re impatient because you’re ready to be back on the road and headed to your destination. You’re worried about how much it may cost. What if you’re waiting in a hospital waiting room? Hospital waiting rooms are a scary place to be. You never know what’s going on with the person next to you. One family may be excitedly welcoming a new life into the world, while the other may be preparing to say their goodbyes to the one they love. Maybe you’re hoping for good news – desperately hoping and praying to hear that everything is going to be okay. But you don’t know for sure. The future seems so very shaky, and so very unknown. Sometimes it feels like that strand of hope is slipping through your hands. How can you hold on to hope? How can you wait well in those moments? The first thing to do is to realize you aren’t alone. There is a Great Physician sitting right beside you, holding your hand. He is our anchor of hope and peace in the midst of fear and uncertainty. He is with you, cling to Him. If there are others around you, friends and family, cling to them. If not, find someone to talk to or simply to sit with –  A pastor. A counselor. A support group. Know that you are not alone. Look for the good, and focus on it. Even when everything around you seems to be going wrong, there is always something to be thankful for. Find that thing, and fix your eyes on it. There is purpose in this time of fear and frustration. Look for that purpose. Fill your time of waiting with prayer, and worship, and service.

We often think of patience as being something that is passive. We think of it as if there is nothing we can do but sit around and wait for it to happen – but that’s not the case. Patience is active. Waiting is an act of service. Think about servers in restaurants – they are called “waiters” and “waitresses” but they aren’t sitting around passively. They’re actively attending to the needs of the restaurant patrons. They’re on the move – constantly going from table to table, asking how things are going, refilling glasses, and taking orders. That’s how our spiritual waiting should be. Patience is difficult when we’re sitting around watching the clock and counting down the time – but it goes by more quickly when our waiting is active.

There is a song by John Waller called While I’m Waiting and in the song he says, “I’m waiting on You, Lord. And I am hopeful. I’m waiting on You, Lord. Though it is painful. But patiently, I will wait. I will move ahead, bold and confident, taking every step in obedience. While I’m waiting, I will serve You. While I’m waiting, I will worship. While I’m waiting, I will not faint. I’ll be running the race, even while I wait.” We can serve Him and worship Him while we wait. We can continue moving forward with boldness and confidence. In fact, Hebrews 12:1 tells us to “run with patience the race that is set before us” (KJV). It seems odd to run with patience. If you’re running, you’re usually in a hurry to get somewhere or you want to finish the race with the fastest time, but a true runner knows that running is about pacing yourself. Slow and steady wins the race – isn’t that what we learned from the story of the tortoise and the hare?

Slowing Down

There is a challenge going around on social media right now called the “candy challenge” – and in this challenge parents sit a bowl of candy out in front of their young kids. They have a hidden camera in front of them and they tell them not to eat the candy until they get back. Then they leave the room. The kids are eager to eat the candy. Many of them immediately stick their hand in and grab a piece. Some of them lick it, smell it, touch it to their tongue – they get as close as they possibly can to eating it. Many of them resist, but it’s not easy. Why do we struggle so much with being patient? We often resist patience because we’re so excited about what’s to come – We’re so excited that we want it right now, but we need to learn to shift our mindset. If those kids would only think – “When mom comes back I get to have this candy!” then the waiting period would be a lot more enjoyable. But instead, all they could think was, “This candy is sitting in front of me right now and I can’t eat it!” They were more focused on the fact that they couldn’t have it right now, instead of the fact that they could have it as soon as their parents returned. That’s often where the root of our impatience lies – We want immediate results and instant gratification.

Our culture values speed. Technological advances are all about saving time. The printing press. The assembly line. The car. The train. The plane. The telephone. The cellphone. The computer. The internet. The microwave. They all have allowed us quicker ways to communicate, to travel, to produce and manufacture goods, to prepare food, to access information. We now have an encyclopedia of news and information right at our fingertips. Literally. We can have anything we want delivered to our front door in a matter of hours. Even our Bible studies and devotionals are often labeled based on the amount of time it will take us to complete it –  “The 1-Minute Bible” or the “The 5-Minute Bible Study.” There are get rich quick schemes, and weight loss programs that try to guarantee you the weight will fall off in 30-days or less. There are apps to help you find love with the swipe of your finger. There are life hack videos and meal prep videos. They all want to save us time, but what are we doing with all this saved time? It almost seems as if we actually ended up with less time than before.

Waiting involves slowing down, and we don’t want to slow down. We want to speed up. We’re constantly in a hurry. We want to do more. We want to accomplish more. We value productivity. We want to do as much as possible, in as little time as possible. That’s why we get irritated when we have to wait in long lines at the store or when the car in front of us doesn’t immediately press on the gas as soon as the light turns green. We get impatient in long lines at amusement parks, in traffic on the way home from work, and when we’re on hold over the phone with a bill collector. We’re in a global pandemic right now, that almost feels as if our whole lives have been put on pause. We don’t know what to do with it, because it is so counter-cultural.

We want quick fixes. We want all our problems solved in as little time as possible, so we grow impatient the longer we have to wait. We become irritated when we’re forced to slow down. But it’s important for us to remember that spiritual growth takes time. James 5:7 says, “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.” Planting takes time. Farming takes time. Harvesting takes time. Sometimes droughts come. Sometimes we have to till up the ground and start again. How does it impact our spirituality when we live in a culture of drive-thru’s, curbside pick-up’s, and next-day delivery – but serve a God who operates as a patient Farmer? What happens when we pray and God doesn’t immediately answer our prayer? We start to lose faith. We start to lose hope. Even in worship services – We grow impatient if we don’t feel like we’re getting something out of it. In our minds, we’re thinking about what we’re going to have for lunch or what chores we need to be doing at home. We open up our Bibles and skim the pages, but how often do we take the time to read, reflect, and respond to the words? How often do we just sit in the silence and listen for God to speak? In Life on the Vine, Phillip Kenneson writes, “Perhaps our fixation with productivity instills in us a deep sense of impatience that might partly be responsible for our lack of joy in worship. How can we joyfully engage in worship if we are continually mindful of all the other more productive things we could be doing with our time.” It’s a dangerous place to be spiritually. It is counter-productive to our spiritual growth. We need to go against the grain of our society. We need to be more like Jesus.

Like Jesus

When we look at the life of Jesus, we see that He was never in a hurry. He allowed Himself to be interrupted. When the woman with the issue of blood touched His garment, He felt it, and He turned around and made notice of her faith. When a father came asking for a miracle for his daughter who had died, Jesus got up from His teaching and went and followed the man (Matthew 9:18-26). When the disciples saw children coming to Jesus as a distraction and tried to rebuke them, Jesus welcomed them and blessed them and told them the Kingdom of God belonged to them (Mark 10:13-16). When Jesus went to the well for water, He didn’t turn around and leave as soon as He got the water, but instead He sat down and talked with the woman He saw there (John 4). Jesus lived in the moment and was attentive to the needs of those around him. He welcomed distractions. He used interruptions to build relationships, bring healing, and bring salvation.

Like all other Fruits of the Spirit, patience is a characteristic of God. God is love (1 John 4:8) and love is patient (1 Corinthians 13:4). He is slow to anger (Psalm 103:8). As Christians, as followers of Jesus, we should strive to demonstrate this same loving patience and slowness to become angry. James 1:19-20 says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” It’s important to realize that scripture does not say God did not become angry; it says He was slow to become angry. There is a such thing as righteous anger. In John 2:13-22 we see Jesus making a whip and driving people out of the Temple who were there selling cattle, sheep, and doves. Then in Matthew 21:12-17 we see Him flipping tables in the Temple when He sees the same thing happening again. In Life on the Vine, Phillip Kenneson writes, “God’s patience does have a purpose; it is not simply restraint for the sake of restraint. God is slow to anger, but God does get angry. God bears with people for a long time, but a time of judgement is coming.”

Bearing with someone is a form of patience. Praise God He bears with us. Praise God He is slow to anger, and quick to forgive. Let us imitate His love. Let us imitate His patience. Let us imitate His mercy. Colossians 3:12-14 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” In Ephesians 4:1-3, Paul says, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” When we are patient with others, we are showing the love of God. When we are patient with others, we are striving for peace. And it isn’t easy; it takes effort. But it is worth it. And love makes it possible.

We can’t take God’s kindness and mercy for granted. We can’t take His patience for granted. It is purposeful. It leads to repentance. Romans 2:2-4 says, “Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” What kind of example are we setting if we return to the sin which God so mercifully freed us and forgave us? We cannot grow weary in doing good. Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” When asked how often we should forgive someone who wronged us, Jesus responded, “…not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” That requires an immense amount of patience. But it is possible. We can forgive others because He first forgave us. We can be patient with others because He is patient with us. In 1 Timothy 1:16, Paul says, “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” Let us be an example of God’s love and patience.

In the words of Paul, I pray this prayer:

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.”

– Colossians 1:9-11

 

 

The Fruit of Peace

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What is peace?

Peace is often defined as the absence of conflict or the end of war, but in Scripture, peace is often synonymous with wholeness or salvation. For example, Isaiah 52:7 says, “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good new of happiness, who announces salvation…” The Gospel is good news of peace. In the Armor of God passage of Scripture in Ephesians 6, verse 15 tells us to shod our feet with the preparation of the Gospel of Peace.

I find it interesting that in both of these passages of Scripture, peace is correlated with our feet. Often, we think of peace as being associated with our mind and the way we think, but it is more so about our lifestyle and the way we walk out our faith. Isaiah 59:8 says, “They do not know the way of peace, and there is no justice in their tracks; They have made their paths crooked, whoever treads on them does not know peace.” Romans 3:17 also refers to a “path of peace” and in Luke 1:79 Zechariah prophesied that Salvation would come “… to guide our feet in the way of peace.”

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for peace is “Shalom” which means completeness in number, safety or soundness in body, welfare, health, and prosperity. Shalom means peace, quiet, tranquility, and contentment. As Phillip Kenneson writes in Life on the Vine, shalom “refers to the state of well-being, wholeness, and harmony that infuses all of one’s relationships. Such a view of peace is inherently social; to be at peace only with oneself is not to experience shalom in all its fullness.”

We need people. We need community to experience true peace. Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” This is a difficult task for us to work towards when we live in a society that is so individualistic and divisive.

We live in an electronic age that allows us to hide behind a screen. We can type out hurtful words and press the send button, knowing we would never actually say those words aloud if we were face to face with the person on the other end. We can’t see the impact of our words, so we can’t see the harm being done. With these technological advances, we can create an image of the person we want others to see us as online. We only post the pictures we want them to see, and only share the stories we want them to hear. Meanwhile, we are completely alone, completely anonymous, and completely void of true connection. Without true connection, how can we know true peace?

Even outside of technology, we’re still divided. The media has divided us. Marketing has divided us. Politics have divided us. Greed has divided us. Pride has divided us. The love of money and the desire for power has divided us. As Phillip Kenneson writes, “Politics no longer involves the search for the common good, but a competition between warring factions, each bent on securing or protecting its own interests. All of this contributes to the further fragmentation of our lives, both as individuals and as a society.” The world sees no gray area, no middle ground, no sense of nuance. Only right and wrong. Only us against them. And this leaves little room for peace. We are taught to think one way, and we rarely see both sides of the story. We rarely listen to people with different worldviews and different life experiences than our own. When we’re so focused on ourselves, we start to lose sight of the bigger picture. When we never lift up our eyes to see what’s going on in the world around us, then we eventually end up tripping over own feet as we journey on the path to peace.

In Life on the Vine, Kenneson describes how our fragmented lives have created a barrier to peace. He says, “trying to embody such integrity (that is, a fully integrated life) is difficult in a society that cultivates fragmentation rather than wholeness or shalom.” What does it mean for us to live fragmented lives? Think about this: Is who you are when you’re at home different from who you are when you’re out in public? The way we talk and interact with our neighbors and the people we live around may be different from how we talk and interact with those we work with, and the person we portray ourselves to be at church may be different from the person we portray ourselves to be with our friends and family. Does that sound familiar? Isn’t it exhausting? No wonder it’s so hard for us to be at peace with ourselves and with other people. How do we know which one is the real us? How do we know what our real convictions are verses the opinions that we’ve formed based on other people’s opinions? Each group of people we surround ourselves with have different expectations of us, so we shape and mold ourselves to fit into the image of who they want us to be. We are far too concerned about what other people think about us, and the truth is, no one really cares about the image we’re portraying because they’re too concerned with their own image.

Even our Christianity has become individualized. We call it a “personal” relationship with Jesus. We choose our churches based on what’s convenient for us and what’s most beneficial for us. We complain about church when we don’t “get something out of it.” We leave a church when they didn’t reach out to us, or when they did or did not do this for us. We make it about ourselves, but the church doesn’t exist for us. The church exists to glorify God and make His Name known. The church exists for the community. The church exists to make disciples, to care for the orphans, the widows, and the least of these. We are part of a body of Christ, and peace is found when we are all working together in harmony towards one purpose. Peace is found when we use all of our differing spiritual gifts to spread the Gospel of Peace – the Good News of a Savior who unites both Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free. Peace is found when we lay down our pride. Peace is found when we shift our focus from ourselves and start putting the focus on serving and honoring God with every breath that He graciously gives to us.

Peace is a gift.

In John 14:27 Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”

If peace is a gift, then what does that tell us about peace? That tells us it can’t be bought, and it can’t be earned. It must be received. If you want to receive peace, you have to open your hands to accept it. You have to surrender. You have to let go of control. You have to let go of pride, and selfishness. You have to let go fear, anxiety, and insecurity. You have to trust the Giver of the gift. You have to trust that He is the Giver of good gifts. You have to trust His intentions, trust His plan, and trust His purpose. You have to trust that He gives out of the abounding love He has for us. He does not intend to harm us, but is working all things together for good.

Peace is freely given to us. And that’s great news! Who doesn’t love a good gift?! But in this particular passage of Scripture we can’t be so quick to focus on the peace that we neglect to consider the words that came before the gift of peace:

“I am leaving you…”

Suddenly that peace doesn’t seem like such a great gift – because Jesus didn’t just give it, He left it. Jesus spoke these words to His disciples on the night of the Last Supper, the night before His death. Jesus was warning His disciples about what was to come, and in leaving them with the gift of peace, He was leaving them with a gift they didn’t even know they needed yet. They didn’t understand. They couldn’t comprehend. Jesus had shifted their world upside down, and they could never have imagined a world without Him in it. They could never have imagined the horrors He would face on the cross. They could never have imagined that He was going to die and rise again. They could never have imagined the persecution and martyrdom they themselves would face as His followers. And Jesus knew that. Jesus knows our hearts. He knows our limited understanding. He is compassionate. He is merciful. He is gracious. In verse 29 He says, “I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens, you may believe.”

Peace is a promise.

Last week, when we talked about joy, we talked about its connection with sorrow. This week, we see that peace is closely connected with fear and anxiety. Jesus knew that because He experienced our humanity. In Him, we find faith to face our fears. Jesus gave the gift of peace before the promise of pain was fulfilled because He knew it was coming. He equips us for every trial we will ever face. He does not leave us alone. With the gift of peace, comes the gift of His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our Peace. And Jesus said “It’s better that I go so the Holy Spirit can come” (John 16:7). The Holy Spirit is our Comforter. He is our Helper. He is our Advocate. “These things I have told you,” Jesus says in John 13:33, “so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

Jesus tells us that His gift of peace is not the same peace that the world offers. The world offers a fake peace, a counterfeit peace. The peace that the world offers only provides a temporary fix; it puts a band-aid over the gaping wound of sin in our lives. The peace the world offers just wants us to forget our troubles or mask our troubles. There’s no promise to remember. The peace the world offers is found in money and possession, in lustfulness and addiction, in likes and attention. The peace of this world is found when we blend in with this world, but the peace of God is found when we stand out from this world. The peace of God is found only in Jesus. The peace of God is found when we praise Him even in the midst of the storm. The peace of God is when we smile, even when our hearts are heavy and burdened. The peace of God is found when we surrender fully to Him, even when our minds are filled with fear and anxiety. There is a song called Peace by Hillsong Young & Free and the words say, “You will stay true, even when the lies come. Your word remains truth, even when my thoughts don’t line up. I will stand tall on each promise you made… Dare anxiety come, I’ll remember that peace is promise you keep.” We find the promise of peace in the words of Jesus. Countless times throughout John 13-16 we see Jesus start a statement with the phrase “These things I have spoken to you…” or “This I have told you…”  In John 16:33 He says, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace.” His words hold the gift of peace, and we find peace when we call those words to remembrance.

In Hebrews 10:32-35, Paul writes:

“But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.”

If peace is a promise Jesus spoke to us, then we can trust He will provide peace for us. We can trust His Word because He is faithful to fulfill all that He has promised. Jesus does not just speak truth, Jesus is truth. Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Peace is not a place we go to, it’s a person we run to. The Prince of Peace is the One walking with us through all of our trials. The Prince of Peace is the One in the boat with us in the midst of the storm. When He speaks, the winds and waves cease. His presence is all the peace we need. So why do we fear? We often fear because we do not trust Him. When Jesus calmed the storm for His disciples, He asked them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Fear is the opposite of faith. Do you know what command is given more often than any other command in Scripture? Do not fear. I’ve heard it said that the command is given 365 times throughout Scripture – once for every day of the year. We constantly need to be reminded not to fear. We constantly need to be reminded to trust Jesus to be our Peace and to speak Peace into our lives. Peace is not the absence of conflict – We will face troubles in this life. We will face times of fear and uncertainty – but peace is an anchor in the midst of the storm. Peace is calmness even in the midst of the chaos. Peace is the ability to find harmony even with those who are different from us – even when the world is doing everything it can to try and divide us. When we live at peace, we live in the confidence that Jesus is exactly who He says He is and that He will do exactly what He says He will do. Peace is a way of life. Psalm 34:14 says, “Depart from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it.” We should always be seeking peace with ourselves, peace with each other, and peace with God. We pursue peace when we pursue Jesus. As long as we are seeking after Jesus, then we are seeking after peace!

The Fruit of Joy

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“This is the day which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

– Psalm 118:24

What is the source of your joy? What brings you joy? What makes you glad and brings you good cheer? Is it a person who gives you joy – Someone who’s smile brightens your day? Someone you enjoy spending time with and always look forward to seeing? Or is it an activity you enjoy doing – maybe a sport or hobby that you could do for hours and never get tired of, something you plan your days and weekends around and always make time for in your schedule? Or maybe it’s a place you enjoy going to – a certain spot of your house you’ve claimed as your own that always calms you and puts you at ease? Maybe a favorite vacation spot that holds a lot of precious memories for you and your family?

Once you’ve identified what brings you joy, the next question to ask yourself is – how do you know it brings you joy? What does joy look like? What does it feel like? How do you express joy? How do you experience joy? Do you leap and dance with joy? Do you rejoice with songs of praise? Or does your joy look more like quiet confidence and a simple smile, or maybe even a burst of laughter?

Spiritually speaking, joy is often the result of spending time in fellowship with God. Psalm 16:11 says, “…In your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” Spiritually speaking, God is not only the source of our joy, but He is also the object of our joy. Psalm 4:7 tells us He has put joy and gladness in our hearts, and in Psalm 51:12 David pleads with God to “restore to me the joy of your salvation.” Psalm 35:9 says, “My soul shall rejoice in the Lord; it shall exult in His salvation.”

The Joy of Salvation

This connection between joy and salvation is no mistake. The Greek word for joy is “chairo” which is very similar to the Greek word “charis” which means grace. Grace is defined as the unmerited favor of God, and grace is the reason we can experience true and lasting joy. In the book Life on the Vine, Phillip Kenneson describes the similarity between these two words by saying, “…both imply the activity of freely taking delight in something or someone beyond one’s self.” Throughout Scripture we see joy expressed as a response to salvation. In the Old Testament, we see joy expressed as a response to delivery from exile (Isaiah 35:10, 52:9, 62:5, 65:17-19, Zephaniah 3:17). We even see in these passages that God also rejoices over us. He takes delight in us. He rejoices over us with singing. How encouraging to know that God rejoices over us like a proud parent! Is there something that once had you enslaved? If you’ve found freedom, or if you’re on your way to freedom – know that God is rejoicing in this freedom with you! He does not rebuke us, but rejoices over us. In the New Testament, we see joy expressed as a response to being healed physically (Luke 13:13, 17:15, Acts 3:8, 8:8) and as response to spiritual conversion (Acts 8:39, 15:3, 16:34, John 4:36). We also see joy expressed as a result of fellowship with other believers (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, 3:9, Philippians 4:1, Romans 15:32, 2 Timothy 1:4, and Philemon 1:7). Paul often told the churches he wrote to that he longed to see them because of the joy they brought him. There is joy in community. There is joy in gathering together with our brothers and sisters in Christ. And finally, we also see joy expressed as a response to the hope of resurrection. In Luke 24:40-41 Jesus shows the disciples His hands and His feet after appearing to them after the resurrection. But Scripture says, “they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement.” I find it interesting in this verse that they could not believe because of their joy. It’s almost as if Luke is telling us – they couldn’t believe because it was too good to be true. Has your joy ever kept you from believing something to be true? In this passage, after Jesus ascends to Heaven, verse 52 says, “And they, after worshipping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” The Gospel is good news of great joy. The Gospel goes forth because of our overwhelming sense of joy that we can’t help but share with others!

But there are also obstacles to joy. What are some things that stand in your way and keep you from experiencing joy?

The Obstacles of Joy

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” How often do we compare ourselves to others? I should be further along in my life, I should have accomplished more, I should be married, I should have children, I should have more money, more possessions, less financial strain, less emotional struggle, I should look this way or I should look that way. Do any of those statements sound familiar? The culture we live in today, all the advertising and all the social media feeds – they are constantly asking us to compare ourselves to others. We are always desiring more, always desiring new, always desiring better. We are rarely content with our life exactly as it is. We can never be content or full of joy when we can’t seem to see beyond ourselves to the bigger work God is doing. We can’t rejoice in the Lord today and embrace His presence today if we are constantly filled with worry and anxiety about what tomorrow will bring. We’re afraid of being different, afraid of going against the grain, so we do everything we can to try to fit in and blend in – but there is no joy in a life that is not authentic to who God created you to be. There is no joy in living a life that is outside of alignment with and the plan and purpose God designed you to fulfill.

The Relationship Between Joy and Sorrow

In addition to the relationship between joy and salvation, there is also a relationship between joy and sorrow. Have you ever seen the movie Inside Out? It’s a children’s cartoon that is based on five of the primary emotions and how they guide our thoughts and actions. It gives lifelike characteristics to these emotions, with the primary character being Joy – and Joy is who we always want in control. Joy is the one who gives us all of our happiest memories. But there’s another character – Sadness. And throughout the movie, no one wants sadness in control of anything. Everything she touches turns sad and gloomy. But at the end of the movie, we learn the importance of sadness. We learn that we need sadness in order to experience joy. When we are sad, the people we love come to comfort us and cheer us up. They strive to make sure we feel seen, heard, and cared for. Some of our most joyful memories are preceded by moments of grief and sorrow, because it’s in times of sorrow that we seek that comfort and belonging. We wouldn’t know the fullness of joy if we hadn’t first known the fullness of sorrow. And we see this correlation in Scripture as well.

Psalm 30:5 says, “…Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.”

Psalm 126: 5 says, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting.”

In Luke 6:22-23, Jesus says, “Blessed are you when men hate you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven…”

In Acts 5:40-41, the apostles were flogged and ordered not to speak the name of Jesus, but when they were released they went on their way “…rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.” And Scripture says they went on teaching and preaching the name of Jesus Christ.

In Acts 16:25, Paul and Silas were imprisoned, and yet they were praying and singing hymns of praise to God! Joy is not bound by our physical circumstances. The joy of the Lord is a joy that endures even when the circumstances around us are telling us to be sorrowful and discouraged.

In Colossians 1:24 Paul writes, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake…”

In 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7, Paul encourages the church at Thessalonica by reminding them they “…received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” They were joyful, despite the persecution they had endured. And they became an example to all the believers.

James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

1 Peter 4:13 says, “…But to the degree that you share in the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.”

Joy is able to endure through trial and sorrow because it is different than happiness or pleasure. Joy goes deeper. Joy is more eternal. The object of our delight is different with joy. As Phillip Kenneson writes, the level of our delight “will differ to the extent that we are drawn out of ourselves.” He goes on to say, “The more we are drawn out of ourselves, the more we likely characterize our delight as joy rather than simply pleasure.” Joy reaches beyond ourselves and beyond our own fears and insecurities. True joy is rooted in the deep and abiding love of Christ. It is rooted in the hope He offers.

How Can We Cultivate Joy in Our Lives?

Joy is often found in the most simple things. Do you remember the “Chewbacca Mom” video? It was a video that went viral on Facebook Live a few years ago. In the video, Candace Payne, a mom of two, spontaneously purchased a Chewbacca mask at a Kohl’s, and couldn’t wait to get home and try it out in front of her kids, so she sat in her car and tried it on for all of friends and family on Facebook. She then proceeded to laugh hysterically at herself wearing the mask, and the Chewbacca sounds coming from the mask only intensified the laughter. Her laughter was contagious. Hundreds of thousands saw the video, joined in her laughter, and shared it with their friends and family. Candace ended the video, weak from laughter, with the phrase, “It’s the simple joys, ya’ll!” That video created a ripple effect of joy across the world. And in the days and weeks that followed, Candace gained a platform on which to share the source of her joy. Because her joy is a joy that comes from the Lord. She is now a Christian speaker, author, and podcast host – and God used a Chewbacca mask to make it happen. She lived in the moment, embraced a moment of joy, and is still feeling the effects of it to this day. That’s the power of joy.

When the seeds of joy have been planted and cared for, they multiple and bring forth more fruit. So how can we cultivate and grow the fruit of joy in our lives?

We cultivate joy through worship and thanksgiving.

Make a list of things that bring you joy. Keep a gratitude journal. It’s something so simple that changes your perspective and shifts your focus to things above. When we realize how much we have to be thankful for, we can’t help but worship and praise the God who is the creator and giver of goodness.

Psalm 63:5-7 says, “My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth offers praises with joyful lips. When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches, For You have been my help, And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.”

Even in the shadow there is something to be thankful for. There is a reason to rejoice, if only because we are close to the Father and safe under His wings.

Psalm 66:1-2 says, “Shout joyfully to God, all the earth; Sing the glory of His name; make His praise glorious.”

Worship Him with songs of thanksgiving. Worship Him with songs of praise. Worship Him with shouts of joy.

Psalm 68:3-4 says, “But let the righteous be glad; let them exult before God; Yes, let them rejoice with gladness. Sing to God, sing praises to His name; Lift up a song for Him who rides through the deserts, whose name is the Lord, and exult before Him.”

Psalm 84:1-2 says, “How lovely are Your dwelling places, O Lord of hosts! My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord; My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.”

In 2 Samuel 6:12-22 David expressed His joyful gratitude to God in the form of leaping and dancing. When the ark of the covenant was brought to Jerusalem, Scripture says David was “…dancing before the Lord with all his might” (v. 14). He was “leaping and dancing before the Lord” (v. 16). And when Saul’s daughter saw it and spoke against this “undignified” display of leaping and dancing, David responded by reminding her that He was chosen and appointed by God. “Therefore,” he says, “I will celebrate before the Lord” (v. 21).

We cultivate joy through traditions.

Holidays are Holy Days. Culture. History. Stories. Songs. Feasting. Fellowship. These are all things that bring us joy. These are all things that are found throughout Scripture. These are all things that God gave priority to in Scripture. The Gospel was passed down through the sharing of stories. Jesus celebrated the tradition of Passover by sitting around a table and breaking bread with His disciples. Sabbath rest – one day each week of ceasing from work – is a commandment of God. What are some traditions in your life that bring you joy? If you don’t have any traditions in your life right now that bring you joy, start your own traditions. Create regular rhythms and routines in your life around the things that bring you joy and point you to Christ.

We cultivate joy by spending time with children.

Children are a source of joy because they are full of joy, and joy is contagious. Children see the world differently than we do. They find joy in simple things, things that we would normally overlook and not give a second thought to. Maybe you don’t have children of your own, but you can visit with your friends and family who have children. You can offer to babysit for them. You can volunteer at school events and church events. When we surround ourselves with childlike faith and joyfulness, it bolsters our own faith and fills us with joy.

What are some other ways you can cultivate joy in your life?

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Producing Spiritual Fruits

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But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Galatians 5:22-23 NASB

What does it mean to be a Christian? Have you ever met someone and without the name of Jesus ever coming up… something in your spirit told you they were followers of Jesus? What was different about them? What gave you that feeling?

What if you flip it around…

Have you ever met someone who said they were a Christian, but something about it didn’t sit right in your spirit? What threw you off? What was the red flag?

It’s the fruit we produce that tells people we’re followers of Jesus. When our lives are firmly planted in who Jesus is, our lives will bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

When the members of Westboro Baptist Church are standing outside of funerals with signs telling people God hates them…. there is no fruit of love being displayed. There is no Jesus being displayed.

And what if you flip that one around too…

Think about prosperity preachers who never preach against sinfulness. They tell people God will richly bless and heal them if only they give financially or “sow a seed” into their ministries… Is that real love if it’s not the truth? And if it doesn’t bear the fruit of real love, is it truly rooted in Jesus?

Matthew 7:18 says, “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.” Our fruits reveal what’s within us. Whatever you’ve been planting in private will come to fruition in public. That’s why it’s so important to practice spiritual disciplines. That’s why it’s so important to practice our spiritual gifts. That’s how we produce spiritual fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. That’s how people see Jesus in us. That’s how they know we are followers of Him, and that’s what makes them want put down their nets and start following after Him too.

From the Beginning

The first mention of fruit in the Bible occurs in the very beginning. In Genesis 1:11 God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them.” And it was so. And it was good. When God created Adam and Eve, He gave them every plant yielding seed and every fruit. Everything they needed, He gave them. And He gave them one simple instruction, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely, but from the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). All but one. Everything they needed to live, they had. But they wanted the one thing that would ensure their certain death. Sin entered the picture in the form of a forbidden fruit.

Did you know that before there was man to cultivate the earth, it never rained? Instead, a mist would rise from the earth and water the ground (Genesis 2:5). All the pain and toil that goes into producing a harvest now? That was a result of the fall. That was a result of sin. “…Cursed is the ground because of you,” God said to Adam. “In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken” (Genesis 3:17-19). I think about our society today – the ability to walk into a grocery store and choose whatever food you want off the shelves without having to labor in a field from dawn to dusk for that food – we start to take for granted all the work that goes into producing the food we eat. We start to forget that there is a price for our sin.

We were made in the image of God. But because of sin, we’ve been separated from Him. Without Jesus, our lives will only ever produce bad fruit. Or plastic fruit that looks good on the outside, but when you bite into there’s nothing there. There’s no nutritional value. It’s an imitation. But the closer we grow to Jesus, the more rooted in Him we are, the more we start to look Him. The more we start to act like Him and talk like Him. That’s when our lives start to produce real, lasting fruit.

Fruit trees are found all throughout Scripture, but another prominent place we see them is in the Promised Land. When the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, and on the days when they were so miserable they were looking back with longing on their days of slavery – it was the image God gave them of the promised land He was leading them to that kept them pressing forward. It was a land flowing with milk and honey, but it was also a land filled with vineyards, and olive groves, and an abundance of fruit trees (Deuteronomy 8:5-10, Leviticus 25:18-19, Nehemiah 9:23-25).

Throughout scripture, fruit trees are known to be symbolic for fertility. When God created and Adam and Eve, He told them to “be fruitful and multiple” (Genesis 1:28). When God promised the Israelites a land or pomegranate and fig trees, He was promising them seeds – generations, a lineage, a future. Spiritually speaking, when our lives produce fruit – there is within that fruit more seeds, and those seeds are capable of producing more fruit. The goal of discipleship is to make more disciples. When Jesus left this earth and ascended into Heaven, the commission He gave to us was to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:18-19). In other words, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

In Due Season

My aunt and uncle live next door to me and have garden in their backyard. I see them outside working in their garden all the time. This weekend I was providing respite care for a 5-year old little boy and we went over to their yard to play on the swing-set while they were working in the garden. When he saw the garden, he asked my aunt if she had a particular kind of fruit in her garden. “No, I don’t have that one” she responded, “They’re not in season right now.”

And something about that spoke to me. There are certain fruits that taste better in certain seasons, because those fruits grow better in certain seasons. It’s easy to look at the list of spiritual fruits and get discouraged. I may be loving and kind to my neighbors… but self-control? and patience? Those don’t seem to be in season for me right now. Those fruits have a bitter taste, if they’ve even been produced at all. Can you relate? Are there certain spiritual fruits that if someone asked you, “Do you have any gentleness in that garden?” Could you say yes? Or would you have to say, “Ehhh… that one’s not quite in season yet.” That’s okay. We are human. These fruits will have their seasons in our lives. They will come and go with the seasons. They will look and taste better in certain seasons of our lives. But if you recognize where there’s a need… start planting, start preparing the ground. That’s the first step.

“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”

– Galatians 6:9 NASB

In Full Control

There is so much that goes into planting and harvesting a garden. My aunt and uncle are working in their garden 24/7 it seems. In season. Out of season. Early mornings. Late evenings. Weekends. Week days. From tilling the ground and planting the seeds to picking the fruit, cleaning it, and canning it. It takes so much time, and so much effort.

In addition to the physical effort, takes an emotional toil as well. I see the concern on their faces when there is mention of an “early frost” – it’s not ready yet. It’s not time. The fruit won’t survive the bitter cold. I’ve seen their heartache when their peach tree literally produced so much fruit that they couldn’t pick it fast enough and it became so full and heavy that it broke the tree in half. Or what about those summer months when the ground is especially dry and the rains are few and far between?

That’s the thing about growing fruit – there is so much that is beyond your control. In the book Life on the Vine: Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit in Christian Community, Phillip D. Kenneson writes,

“There is so much for the farmer to do, but the farmer cannot make the seed sprout, the sun shine, or the rain fall. In fact, it is only because the farmer trusts that these good gifts will continue to be given that the challenging and risk-filled enterprise of farming is undertaken at all. Grace and effort, gift and work: these must be held together… The wisdom of the farmer reminds us that both are required, in full measure, in order to grow anything worth harvesting.”

Producing spiritual fruit requires trust. It requires a faith in what we cannot see to produce a future we cannot predict. Surrendering to God’s control and watching what He does when the work of your hands meets the grip of His grace is a beautiful sight to behold. First Corinthians 3:7 says, “…Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but it is God who causes the growth” and Jeremiah 17:7-8 says, “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

In the Weeds

Producing fruit requires faith, but it requires faith with action. If you just plant a seed and then sit back and wait for God to work His magic without ever getting out in the garden and doing the required work… then what’s going to happen? Your garden will start to produce weeds. If you don’t attend to the weeds, they will grow up and overtake anything and everything that you had previously planted. Phillip Kenneson writes, “As a child I always wondered why the tomatoes, green beans, and corn always had a much harder time making it than the weeds. If you wanted the vegetables to grow and yield produce, you had to work hard to help them. If you wanted the weeds to take over your garden, you didn’t have to do anything but stand back and watch.”

I’ve been so guilty of this time and time and time again in my spiritual life. You start a regular routine of prayer and study and other spiritual disciplines for a few weeks, and then something happens that throws you off your schedule and all of a sudden you start making excuses. I’ll wait and do it tomorrow. I’ll just do this one thing and then I’ll get back to it. And before you know it, those sprouts of spiritual fruits you once started to see peaking through are now withering beneath a patch of weeds. The enemy will get in anyway he can. He will find any opportunity to get in and destroy what God is trying to produce within you. Don’t let him in. Don’t let him try to gain a foothold. Stand watch. Stand guard. And when you have to, pull out the shovel, dig down deep and get to the root of whatever is trying to destroy your harvest. Repent and turn away from your sins. Dust yourself off and start again. The beauty of grace is that we serve a God of second chances. His mercy is new every morning.

Abiding in Love

 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

– John 15:1-5 NASB

The first fruit of the Spirit is Love. I don’t think the fruits are listed in order of importance, but I do think it’s important to note that love is listed is first. After all, God is love (1 John 4:7-16) – so love is the best way for us to show others we are followers of Him!

We can’t fully give love if we haven’t fully accepted how loved we are. We must receive the gift of God’s love in order to give it out to others. Once we begin abiding in the love of God and allowing it to transform us, it will overwhelm us and it will begin bubbling out in everything we say and everything we do.

How can we know if the fruit of love is being displayed in our lives? One technique I’ve seen used is to read through 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and everywhere you see the word “love” – replace it with your name.

Karis is patient? Karis is kind? Karis is not jealous? Karis does not brag? Karis is not arrogant? Karis does not act unbecomingly? Karis does not seek her own? Karis is not provoked? Karis does not taken into account a wrong suffered? Karis does not rejoice in unrighteousness? Karis rejoices in truth? Karis bears all things? Karis hopes all things? Karis endures all things?

When you come up on one that doesn’t ring true, and you feel that ting of conviction in your heart – that’s an area for improvement. We will never check every box on love – that’s an impossible measure to live by, and that’s exactly why we need Jesus. But it should be our aim to be as much like Jesus as humanly possible. All that love is, God is. So the more characteristics of love we have, the more characteristics of Jesus we have. That’s what being a Christian is all about. If they don’t see our love, then they don’t see our Jesus.

Love is the greatest commandment. In 1 Corinthians 13:13 Paul wrote, “Now faith, hope, and love remain, but the greatest of these is love.” When Jesus was asked which commandment was the greatest, He responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

“Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within reach of every hand.”

– Mother Theresa

A prayer for you…

“For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience.”

– Colossians 1:9-11 NASB

Discovering our Spiritual Gifts

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What are the Spiritual Gifts?

There are three primary areas in the New Testament where a listing of Spiritual Gifts can be found: Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4.

“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”

– Romans 12:6-8

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”

– 1 Corinthians 12:4-11

“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”

– Ephesians 4:11-12

Divine Design

Everyone has a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:7, 11, Ephesians 4:7, 1 Peter 4:10), and some may have more than one spiritual gift. No gift is more important than the other. All are needed, and if you have more than one gift, it is because those gifts are perfectly suited for your role within the Kingdom of God. The discovery of your spiritual gift(s) takes place gradually. It is a process. Our gifts are discovered through the process of our spiritual formation. Our spiritual gifts are not to be confused with spiritual fruits (Galatians 5:22-23). Spiritual fruits are our Christian character, but spiritual gifts are our Christian service. It’s important to remember that Christian service and spiritual gifts are not necessarily tied to an office or position within a church. Everyone has a spiritual gift, but not everyone is called to work for a church or ministry. Those positions are selected and appointed by humans, but our spiritual gifts are selected and appointed by God. Your personal ministry can be just as effective at your home, in your school, at your work, or in a park as it can be within a church building. It is also important to make sure our spiritual gifts are not confused with our natural talents and abilities. Those gifts may coincide with our spiritual gifts, but our spiritual gifts go beyond our natural skills and abilities. They are spiritual because they are supernatural. The are divinely designed and given to followers of Jesus to expand and edify His Church. The purpose of our spiritual gifts is to serve and glorify God. As J. Oswald Sanders said, “The possessor is only the instrument and not the receiver of the glory.” Therefore, we must be careful not to abuse or neglect our spiritual gifts. There are great leaders and great orators who have used their God-given gifts for selfish and worldly reasons. We can’t fall into that trap, though Satan will try to entangle us.

Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

– 1 Peter 4:11 NASB

Diverse Design

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.”

– 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 NLT

As the body of Christ, we all have a vital role to play. We all need each other. Our gifts compliment one another. Our strengths cover one another’s weaknesses. Our gifts are different, but they’re all connected. Our arms can’t reach out without our brain functioning behind the scenes telling it what to do. Our legs can’t move without the muscles inside holding us up and allowing us to put one foot in front of the other. When we reach to grab hold of something, it’s because all our fingers are coming together to bear the weight of it. No part of our body is more important than the other. The body moves and operates because of everything working together. The value is in the unity. The value is in the diversity. The value is in the divine mystery of the design.

Just as we are one body with many parts, we are one spirit with many gifts. Our gifts make the most sense within the context of community. We find fulfillment when we find our place within the Kingdom. A solitary puzzle piece seems to serve no purpose until it’s connected with other varying shapes and colors. And that finished puzzle would be glaringly incomplete if not for that one single piece to bring it all together. God knows where to place us. We all have a purpose. He knows who we need by our side to compliment us. He knows who will challenge us, who will strengthen us, and who will encourage us. He brings all the pieces together at just the right time. Psalm 68:6 says He places the lonely in families. Ephesians 1:5 says He adopts us into His own family. Psalm 133:1 says, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!”

Unwrapping our Spiritual Gifts

The word gift in the original Greek is “charisma” and “charisma” comes from the Greek word “charis” which means grace. This tells us that our spiritual gifts are a gift of grace. This tells us our spiritual gifts are given to us by God. We don’t choose our spiritual gifts; we receive them. We cannot earn them; they are freely given to us. They are unmerited and undeserved. Therefore, we have no basis on which to boast of ourselves. “If I must boast,” the apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:30, “I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am.” Our spiritual gifts should reveal our weaknesses, because our weaknesses reveal God’s strength. Moses was slow of speech, but God gifted him to lead the children of Israel out of slavery. David was an adulterer, but through that affair, Solomon and all of his wisdom was born. Paul murdered Christians, but when God transformed His life, He gifted him to write over half the books of the New Testament. God works in our weakness, and God works through our weakness.

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom, or the powerful boast in their power, or the rich boast in their riches. But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the Lord, have spoken.'”

– Jeremiah 10:23-24 NLT

Paul references this passage from Jeremiah when he is addressing the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians chapter 10. In this passage, Paul was speaking to the Corinthians about false teachers who were boasting about themselves. “Oh, don’t worry; we wouldn’t dare say that we are as wonderful as these other men who tell you how important they are!” he writes. “They are only comparing themselves with each other, using themselves as the standard of measurement. How ignorant!” (v.12). He goes on to say, “We will not boast about things done outside our area of authority. We will boast only about what has happened within the boundaries of the work God has given us…” (v. 13). We can’t compare our spiritual gifts to the gifts and abilities of others around us, because that’s where both pride and shame are born. Self-righteousness starts to creep in when we start to see ourselves as better than others around us because of the things we do or the gifts we have. We may see the areas where others fall short, but we’re too short-sighted to see the grander design that God has in mind. We may make sure others see and know what we’re doing in public, but we don’t see what they’re doing in private. We boast about our abilities and accomplishments because we want the attention and affirmation of other people. We want their praise and commendation, but as the apostle Paul says, that doesn’t count for much. In 2 Corinthians 10:18 he says, “When people commend themselves, it doesn’t count for much. The important thing is for the Lord to commend them.” We can’t pat ourselves on the back and puff our chests out, because human beings are not our standard of measurement. Our spiritual gifts and abilities are not based on our natural gifts and abilities, they are supernatural. They are divinely designed. They are gifts of God. We did not earn them, we do not deserve them, and we have no right to boast about them. We boast only in the one who gives them to us.

What is the opposite of being boastful? Being bashful. We can be full of pride, or we can be full of shame, and neither are helpful for advancing the work of the Kingdom. Our spiritual gifts are just that, they are gifts. And a gift is no good if we never unwrap it, take it out of the box, and put it to use. I can’t help but think that many of us are like children who are so fascinated by the box itself that we neglect the gift inside. The gift inside was one that our parents put forth a lot of time, effort, and money to be able to give us. There is a cost attached to the gift. A great price was paid for us to receive it. And we’re too busy playing with the box.

We have to step outside of our comfort zones. We have to stop playing the comparison game. We have to lay down our pride, and lay down our shame. We have to learn to recognize our gifts as God’s grace given to us. We have to learn to boast in our weakness. We have to learn to boast in Christ Jesus, our Lord, who paid the cost of our sins and covered our weakness through the power of His love on the cross at Calvary. May we embrace our gifts and live fully in the grace He has given. May we use the gifts He has given us to point to Him, and only to Him! May we use our gifts to glorify Him, and only Him! He alone is worthy. It is a gift of grace, lest any man should boast! (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Equipped to Serve

Spiritual gifts are used by God to grow and multiply His Church. In 2 Timothy 2:1-2 Paul writes to Timothy, “My dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus. You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.” This is how the Gospel is spread. We make disciples to make disciples. The goal of discipleship is to make disciple-makers. Matthew 10:8 tells us we’ve received freely, so we ought to give freely. Our spiritual gifts were given freely to us, so we ought to give freely of our gifts. Paul was given a gift of teaching and shepherding, and he taught Timothy how to teach and shepherd. Paul’s gift did not die when he died, it lived on. It’s impact is still being felt in the Church today. We can’t hoard our gifts. We can’t hold on to them. We have to give them out. We have been equipped to serve. We serve by using our gifts to both expand the Church and edify the Church.

How do we Discover our Spiritual Gifts?

We discover our spiritual gifts through the gradual process of internal observation, external exploration, and spiritual confirmation.

Observation – Take a closer look within yourself. Ask yourself, have I received Christ? Am I walking with Him? Do I really want to discover and develop my spiritual gifts? If you really want to take that next step in your spiritual formation, you have to practice the spiritual disciplines, because that’s where God speaks and reveals Himself. That’s where He’ll reveal His purpose to you. In that place of silence and solitude. In that time of study and reflection. In that time of prayer and fasting. In that time of worship. In that time of fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ. We have to make sure we’re putting those actions into practice in our daily lives so we can put ourselves in a position to hear from God. Then, look at the desires of your heart. What are you passionate about? What stirs your heart and drives you to action? Our feelings should not be the primary motivator for discovering our spiritual gifts, but if we are walking with God and following Him, then they can be a potential indicator of what our gift(s) may be.

Exploration – Expose yourself to Biblical teaching. Read books. Listen to sermons and podcasts. Attend Bible studies. Have conversations with other followers of Christ. Ask for guidance and clarification from your spiritual leaders and mentors. If there’s a gift you desire, ask God. Let your request be made known (Philippians 4:6, James 1:5). Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” God’s plans are to prosper us, not to harm us (Jeremiah 29:11). He works all things together for good (Romans 8:28). If we ask for a gift and He doesn’t give it, it’s because He has a greater gift in store. We have to follow where He leads. When He says go, we go. When He says speak, we speak. When He says teach, we teach. When He says help, we help. We will never know what our spiritual gift is unless we try. We have to be willing to try. We have to take action and put forth effort in order to discover how God can and will use us.

Confirmation – When you’re on the right track, God will confirm it. Look for the signs. Listen for the affirmation. Maybe it comes in the form of positive feedback from a trusted spiritual leader. Maybe it comes in the form of a word spoken or an action taken at just the right time. Maybe you’ll see you’ll see the full circle picture of the work God is doing, or maybe you’ll just feel it in your spirit. But when God confirms it to you, you’ll know. Look for it. Listen for it. He’ll show you. He’ll make it clear.

Worship & Celebration

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“But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth.”

– Jesus (John 4:23-24)

I once heard Worship leader, Kari Jobe, beautifully describe worship as simply “giving God His breath back.” I’ve also heard it said that worship is the “the mind’s attention and the heart’s affection expressed.” In the sermon series 24Ever, Pastor Michael Todd of Transformation Church, defines worship as “our love expressed to God as a response to His grace toward us.” In his book The Spirit of the Disciplines, Author and Philosopher, Dallas Willard, describes worship as “seeing God as worthy.” To be worthy is defined as “having weight or value.”

Worship is a way for us to extend back to God what He has already extended to us. It is an outward expression of what we possess within. Hope. Joy. Peace. Love. It flows out of us. Even in the worst of circumstances, the driest of wilderness seasons, and the darkest of nights we can still worship because we can still see that God is worthy. We still see that He is good. We can still feel the weight of His presence in our lives. We can still sense His power and know His value.

“Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

– Revelation 4:11

The sound of worship echoes throughout creation. Isaiah 55:12 says “…the mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” Psalm 91:1 says, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.”

Stand on a beach and watch as the waves roll in and out. Listen as the wind blows an exultation of praise. Do you see how the trees bend under the weight of His glory? Do you see how the grass in the fields bow down with each breath of the wind. Do you feel the warmth of the sun soaking into your skin? Do you feel your heart beating in rhythm? Listen to the birds as they chirp their songs of praise. Look up to the stars on a dark night and see how they glow with the light of His presence. Watch as lighting shoots across the sky during a night storm. Feel the reverberations of  His power in the thunder.

People from every age, every race, every language, every gender, every generation, and every differing gift and ability will praise the name of the Lord. Every knee will bow. Every tongue will confess. All of creation will sing with the angels a song of praise.

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing… To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”

– Revelation 5:12-13

Worship is being aware of God’s presence in our lives even as we walk this sin-filled earth. Worship is how we express our appreciation of God’s extension of grace and mercy in our lives. Worship is being attentive to the work of God in every small and seemingly insignificant detail of our lives. It is singing songs of praise as you load the dishwasher and reflecting on the promises of God as you fold the laundry and put your kids to bed at night. Worship is standing in wonder and awe at the goodness of God. It is filling your mind and filling your heart with adoration of Him. It is focusing your thoughts on His abounding love – and allowing that love to overflow into an active worship.

“Practically speaking,” Dallas Willard writes, “the Christian’s worship is most profitable when it is centered upon Jesus Christ and goes through Him to God. When we worship, we fill our minds and hearts with wonder at Him – the detailed actions and words of His earthly life, His trial and death on the cross, His resurrection reality, and His work as an ascended intercessor.”

Our worship is hindered when we are not centered and focused on Jesus. Our worship is hindered when we are too preoccupied with other matters, and our mind is cluttered with other concerns. We cultivate a language of worship by hiding God’s Word in our hearts, and reflecting on the truth of His Words as we go throughout our daily lives. We cultivate a spirit of worship by dwelling in God’s presence and abiding in Him each day. We cultivate a heart of worship by establishing daily rhythms of prayer, study, fellowship, fasting, serving, and other spiritual disciplines. When our hearts and minds are firmly fixed on Jesus, our hearts and hands can’t help worship Him! As cliche as it sounds, gratitude changes our attitude. Stepping out into nature can be an entry into a heart of worship because it tunes our heart and allows us to feel the presence of things greater than ourselves. It humbles us, putting our smallness into perspective and giving us a reverence for God like nothing else can. Typically, we think of worship as being the songs we sing on Sunday mornings, but it is so much more. Often, our most powerful worship experiences happen outside the doors of a church building. Our most powerful worship experiences happen when we are aware of God’s presence, and expecting Him to show up in our daily routines. He is there, whenever and wherever we call on His Name. He is worthy of our praise in all times and in all seasons.

Think about the disciples at Pentecost. They were faithfully meeting together. They were waiting expectantly, because they believed Jesus and trusted Him to fulfill His promise. And in their faithfulness, God showed up, and His Holy Spirit descended in a way they had never experienced and could never have anticipated. He exceeded their expectations. That’s what happens when our hearts are fixed on Jesus. Worship overflows. It multiplies and draws others in. It expands the Church – both inwardly and outwardly. It humbles us and magnifies Him. It honors Him and gives Him the glory He is worthy to receive.

 “Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

– Acts 2:43-47

Celebration is also a form of worship, but we don’t typically think about celebration as being a spiritual discipline. As Dallas Willard writes, “We engage in celebration when we enjoy ourselves, our life, our world, in conjunction with our faith and confidence in God’s greatness, beauty, and goodness. We concentrate on our life and world as God’s work and as God’s gift to us.” When I think about celebration, I think about Miriam singing and dancing before the Lord in celebration of God parting the waters of the Red Sea and delivering the Israelite’s safely to the other side (Exodus 15:20-21). When I think about celebration, I think about David as he “danced before the Lord with all his might” when the Ark of the Covenant was moved into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:12-22).

When I think about celebration, I think about feasts, and holidays, and major life events. I think about how we celebrate a life when it’s born, and we celebrate a life when it ends. We celebrate marriages when they begin. We celebrate graduations, and new jobs, and new homes. We celebrate with our friends and our family when we gather together to “eat, drink, and be merry” as Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 8:15. Jesus, Himself, performed His first public miracle at a wedding in Cana. He practiced celebration, because He knew the importance of celebration. Holidays are Holy Days. Throughout the Old Testament, God gave specific instructions for how the Jewish people should remember and keep certain days and times of the year Holy. Now, we celebrate the birth of our Savior at Christmas, and we celebrate His death and resurrection at Easter. We feast with our family and celebrate our blessings at Thanksgiving. We celebrate each new year. We celebrate each new season, each new week, each new day. In all his wisdom, Solomon said, “There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that is from the hand of God. For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?” (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25).

Don’t downplay the exciting times in your life. To downplay those times is to downplay the goodness of God. As Dallas Willard writes, “We dishonor God as much by fearing and avoiding pleasure as we do by dependence upon it or living for it.” He goes on to say, “Holy delight and joy is the great antidote to despair and is a wellspring of genuine gratitude.” When we celebrate our lives, we are celebrating the God who gives us life. When we celebrate the good things in our lives, we are celebrating the God who gives us every good gift. So let’s seize the moment, and embrace it for what it is. Let’s live our lives as a celebration of the goodness of God. Let’s enjoy His presence with us. Let’s walk in the joy of the Lord. Let’s give Him the praise, honor, and glory that He is so worthy to receive. Let’s worship Him. Let’s celebrate Him.

Service & Sacrifice

“This is real love – not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God, but if we love each other, God lives in us and His love is brought to full expression in us.”

– 1 John 4:10-12 NLT

The First Sacrifice

The first sacrificial offering recorded in Scripture is found in Genesis 4 when Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve, gave an offering to God. Cain, who was a tiller of the ground, brought some of his fruits. Abel, who was a keeper of the flocks, brought the first of his flock and their fat portions. God looked with favor on Abel’s offering, but not on Cain’s. Why is that? The Bible is not clear on exactly why, but it is clear on a few important details that could help us to infer the reason. The first is that Abel offered a living sacrifice, a blood sacrifice. The second is that Abel brought the first of his flock and their fat portions. Cain simply brought from his fruits; it doesn’t specify that he brought the first or the best of his fruits. Therefore, Abel’s offering appears to be more sacrificial. Hebrews 11:4 tells us Abel offered the better sacrifice by faith. He was demonstrating a complete dependence on God’s future provision.

The fact that Abel’s offering was a living, blood sacrifice is important because a blood sacrifice is what is required for the forgiveness of sins. We see this as early as Genesis 3:21 when God made animal skins to cover Adam and Eve after they sinned and became aware of their nakedness. Adam and Eve had attempted to cover themselves with fig leaves, but it was not enough. Once again, the sacrifice of fruit paled in comparison to the sacrifice of blood.

In a sense, the fig leaves of Adam and Eve and the fruit offered by Cain represent our spiritual fruits and good works. They represent our feeble attempts at covering our own sins and earning our own salvation. Adam and Eve sowed the fig leaves together with their own hands. Cain tilled the ground with his own hands. Our fruit is good, our works are good, but it’s not enough. It is by Grace we are saved, through faith, not of works lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Life is in the Blood

God’s forgiveness requires the sacrifice of blood. Blood is the source of life in the human body. Without it, our bodies would stop working. It transports oxygen and nutrients throughout our body. It keeps our hearts pumping and our lungs breathing. It fights off diseases. It helps discreet waste. It clots up and scabs over to provide healing and protection. It is vital. It is essential. It is active. It is alive, and it keeps us alive. Blood is a symbol of life, and God is the giver of life. Salvation comes only through Him

Hebrews 9:22 tells us, “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.” Leviticus 17:11 tells us the blood makes atonement for our souls. It covers us. In Exodus 12:13 we see that God required the Israelite’s to spread the blood of a lamb over the doorposts of their homes. This act of sacrifice served as a sign for God to pass over and not permit the final plague to enter in and kill their first born sons. Jesus was later recognized by John the Baptist as, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) and in 1 Corinthians 5:7, Paul writes, “Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed.” On the night of His death, Jesus and His disciples celebrated Passover, and Jesus foretold of His coming death. At that last supper, He took the cup and gave thanks and gave it to them, saying, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:24).

Sacrificial Obedience

1 Samuel 15:22 says that obedience is better than sacrifice. In Genesis 22, God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, as a burnt offering. In the end, God did not require Abraham to follow through with this command. God did not desire Abraham’s sacrifice, He desired his obedience. God only wanted to know if Abraham would be willing to give up what was most precious to him. God only wanted to know if Abraham would continue to trust Him even when it didn’t make sense. Abraham was willing. He was obedient. He continued to trust. Abraham obeyed God’s command because he trusted in God’s promise. Many years before, God had made a promise that Abraham would be a father of many nations, and Abraham trusted God to fulfill that promise. When Isaac asked his father where the lamb was, Abraham responded, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8). And God provided, just as Abraham expected. Our willingness to obey will always be met with God’s faithfulness to provide.

Just as the Passover lamb was a foreshadow of the death of Jesus as our Passover Lamb, Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son was a foreshadow of God’s willingness to sacrifice His Son. Jesus is our sacrificed Lamb, our sacrificed Son. He was obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). Jesus lived a life we could not live to pay a debt we could not pay. He is the spotless, blameless Lamb of God. He is the sinless Son of God sent to save us from our sins. We are like Isaac. We were bound and destined for death, but a provision from God took our place on the altar. Jesus was the ram in the bushes who took our place. He was sacrificed for us so we could be eternally freed from this life of sin and death.

Living Sacrifices

Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we are made alive. Our sins are covered. He made atonement for us. We are in right standing with God. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life (Romans 6:23). And because we are alive, we are called to be living sacrifices. Romans 12:1 says, “Therefore, I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” So how do we present ourselves as living sacrifices? We do this through our service. We serve Christ by serving others. Our service is an act of worship. It is an active sacrifice.

God doesn’t need our service, but He desires it. As Dallas Willard writes, “Our need to give is greater than God’s need to receive.” Service is a vital part of our spiritual growth. We receive so much through our giving. Service is cleansing for our souls. It rids us our selfishness and arrogance, causing us to look beyond ourselves. It rids us of our envy and greed, causing us to look beyond the external and superficial. It rids us of our bitterness and resentment, causing us to look beyond the faults and failures of others. It broadens our perspective, expands our horizons, and softens our hearts.

Service is how we put our faith into action. It is how we put the love of God into action. Service should not be seen so much as a discipline, but as opportunity to show God’s love and share God’s love. We should approach every new encounter, every new meeting, with an openness to serve. How can I serve this person? How can I show love to this person? How can I show Jesus to this person?

Secret Service

We take service one step further when we keep it a secret. In earlier weeks we discussed the spiritual discipline of secrecy, of keeping things between you and God. Jesus teaches this on His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6. “When you pray, go into your inner room, close your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:6). “When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:17-18). And “When you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:2-4).

Sacrificial Service

In The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard says, “The discipline of sacrifice is one in which we forsake the security of meeting our needs with what is in our hands. It is total abandonment to God, a stepping into the darkened abyss in the faith and hope that God will bear us up.” An offering isn’t sacrificial until it hurts us to give it. It is the same with fasting. Have you ever tried to make negotiations and excuses with your fasting? When you start trying to think of the reasons why you can’t give something up – that’s probably the exact thing you need to give up. It shows you’re becoming dependent on it. I can give up the chocolate and sweets, but I can’t give up my morning coffee. I can’t function without it. I can give up the binge watching shows on Netflix, but I can’t give up social media. I need it for my job, I need it to stay in touch with my friends and family. We make excuses when we know it’s going to cost us something, when we know it’s going to hurt us in some way. But it isn’t truly giving unless it costs us something – whether that thing be our time, our money, our comfort, or our pride.

In Mark 12:41-44, as Jesus was observing people giving their offerings, He noticed that the rich people were giving large sums of money, but it was a widow who put in two small coins that caught His attention. Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”

That’s the kind-of sacrifice God desires. It’s not the giving that matters, it’s the heart behind the giving. Her giving was not calculated and thought out. She didn’t calculate how much she could give and still have to live on. She didn’t make excuses to justify what she gave. She didn’t give out of an overflow of what she already had, but out of the overflow of her heart. She gave out of obedience. She gave with a willing heart, fully trusting God to meet her needs. Her giving was an act of worship.

Let us, too, worship through giving.

Let us honor His sacrifice through our service.

Let us give of ourselves for others, because He gave of Himself for us.

Let this be our prayer:

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Fellowship, Confession, & Submission

What is Fellowship?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines fellowship as “companionship” or as “a community of interest.” In my life, fellowship has taken many different forms. In my family, fellowship has looked like birthday dinners, Sunday after Church lunches, Friday night game nights, and weekend trips to the Mountains. Growing up in youth group, fellowship looked like silly games, late-night lock-ins, and short-term mission trips. Then it started to look like grieving together, navigating loss together, and growing up together. In college, it looked like sitting around a bonfire sharing testimonies with strangers until those strangers started to feel like family. Fellowship to me has looked like Church on Sunday morning, but it has also looked like living room Church, car Church, sitting on a rock at the top of a mountain Church, and standing on a beach late at night Church. Fellowship to me is gathering together with people who share my faith. Fellowship to me is showing up for the people I love when they need me, and the people I love showing up for me when I need them. Fellowship tells me I’m not alone. Fellowship holds me accountable, keeps me encouraged, and gives me hope.

“Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.
– Philippians 2:1-2 

The Greek word for “fellowship” in this passage is “Koinonia” which means “communion” or “sharing in common.” As followers of Jesus, our common interest is Jesus. He is what unites us. He is the common ground that holds us steady through the highs and lows of life. Our backgrounds and life experiences may be different, our beliefs and feelings may be different, our personalities may be different – but Jesus unites us all, despite our differences.

I find it interesting that the word “communion” is used in the definition for fellowship. This is significant, especially considering that we are in the season of Lent right now. We are in the season leading up to Easter, leading up to the day we set aside each year to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. Communion is about sharing in the suffering of Jesus. 1 Corinthians 10:16 says, “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” The beauty of communion is that we take it, and we give it. We pass it to our neighbor. We share it. In Matthew 26:26 at that first Lord’s Supper, “… Jesus took some bread, and after blessing it, He broke it and gave it to the disciples…” Communion is about being broken and poured out. Jesus gave of Himself. The bread represented His body, and He broke it and gave it away. The cup represented His blood, and He poured it out. That’s what Fellowship within the Church looks like. That’s what the Body of Christ looks like when we are following in the example of Jesus. It looks like giving of ourselves.

Why is fellowship important?

Fellowship is important because from the beginning of creation, God knew it was not good for man to be alone. Eve was created out of this need. She was created to be a helper for Adam. Bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, they became one (Genesis 2:18-25). God Himself exists as a Trinity – as three in One. In Genesis 1:26 He declared, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 tells us two is better than one, because when one of us falls there’s another to lift us up. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 tells us to encourage each other and build each other up. Romans 12:4-10 tells us we all have different gifts. The Church operates as a body. We need each other. Our differences unite us. Our differences make us strong. Our differences keep us moving forward. As Dallas Willard writes, “Personalities united can contain more of God and sustain the force of His greater presence much better than scattered individuals.”

What is the role of confession & submission in fellowship?

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

– Philippians 2:3-8

In The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard writes, “Confession alone makes deep fellowship possible.” He goes on to say, “In it we let trusted others know our deepest weaknesses and failures. This will nourish our faith in God’s provision for our needs through His people, our sense of being loved, and our humility before our brothers and sisters. Thus we let some friends in Christ know who we really are, not holding back anything important, but, ideally, allowing complete transparency. We lay down the burden of hiding and pretending, which normally takes up such a dreadful amount of human energy. We engage and are engaged by others in the most profound depths of the soul.”

Confession involves the disclosure of our sins. It is humbling ourselves. It is being transparent with other believers about the areas where we fail and fall short. This is not the Catholic practice of confessing to a priest in order to receive penance for our sins. Only Christ forgives. Hebrews 3:1 tells us He is our High Priest, and 1 Peter 2:5 tells us we are “being build up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood.” We have direct access to God. He hears our prayers. Romans 10:10 says, “For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” Our salvation comes through confession. Confession deepens our fellowship with other believers, and with those who are coming to new faith in Jesus, because it opens the pathway for us to relate to one another on a deeper level. When trusted believers and spiritual leaders know our weaknesses, they can pray with us and help hold us accountable. When we expose the sins of our past by putting them in the light of Jesus, then those who do not yet believe will begin to see His grace at work within us and they will be drawn to know Him as we know Him.

In submission, we yield ourselves to the authority or control of another. Fellowship is not only about surrounding ourselves with like minded or commonly grounded people who share our faith, but it is also about surrounding ourselves with strong leaders of the faith. It is about surrounding ourselves with spiritually mature people who can speak truth and impart wisdom to us. It is about allowing ourselves to be discipled and poured into so we can then go out and make more disciples and pour ourselves out for others. If we only ever pour ourselves out without ever being poured into, then we’ll become spiritually dry, empty, and burnt out. We have to find balance. Dallas Willard writes, “In submission we engage the experience of those in our fellowship who are qualified to direct our efforts in growth and who then add the weight of their wise authority on the side of our willing spirit to help us do the things we would like to do and refrain from the things we don’t want to do.”

How can we practice confession & submission in our fellowship with one another?

Galatians 6:1-2 tells us to bear one another’s burdens. This means to take it up and carry it. Our brothers and sisters can’t help us carry our burdens if they never see the load we’re carrying. They can’t know if we don’t tell them. We aren’t meant to carry this weight alone. That’s what Jesus is for. That’s what His Church is for. He has put people in our pathway to help us carry the load.

Hebrew 13:17 tells us to submit to our leaders because they keep watch over our souls. God has placed people in authority in the church to warn us against the sins that are trying to ensnare and entangle us. These people in places of spiritual authority are there to provide loving correction, to pray for us, to counsel us, to admonish us. We have to be willing to receive their words, because they may be only a messenger God is using to speak His Word to us, and their counsel may be what God is using to confirm His calling for us.

Ephesians 5:21 tells us to “be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” This word “subject” is a Greek military term which means “to arrange troop divisions in military fashion under the command of a leader.” In non-military terms, it means to have a voluntary attitude of giving in, of cooperating with others, of assuming responsibility, and helping shoulder a burden. We all have seasons in life where we are placed on the front line of the battleground, and we all have seasons of life where we are in the background helping nurse the wounds of those who’ve returned from the front line.

We are in a battle against sin and against the evil powers and forces of this world every day. We all have different roles to play, and different positions to hold. We will all be in different positions of spiritual authority at different points in our lives. Sometimes God will have us issuing the commands and speaking His Words to hearts who are hurting, and sometimes we will be the hurting heart that needs to receive a healing word or a firm command. In every time, in every season, we should always be humble in our confession, receptive in our submission, and faithful in our fellowship.

Why are confession & submission important in our fellowship?

James 5:16 tells us to confess our faults to one another and pray for one another. The word “confess” in this verse is the Greek word Exomologeō  which means “to say the same thing as another.” This type of confession is an agreement. It’s saying, “Me too.” This is why support groups, recovery groups, and addiction ministries are so important. When you’re confessing to someone who shares the same struggle, they can understand how difficult it was for you to say no, to turn away, and to resist the temptation. They can share in your sorrow because they know the pain. They can share in your rejoicing because they know what it took to get where you are. They will pray with you through the valley, and they will praise with you on the mountaintop.

Proverbs 28:13 says, “He that conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will have compassion.” In this verse, the Greek word for “confesses” is Yadah which means, “to throw, to shoot, to cast at or away” and it can also mean “to revere or worship with extended hands, to praise, to give thanks.” In this sense, confession is a way of casting our crowns at the feet of Jesus. It is saying, “This is who I am, in exchange for all that you are.” Our good deeds are filthy rags compared to His righteousness. Confession reminds us of this reality. It reminds us of our sinfulness, and therefore it reminds us of God’s righteousness. When we confess our sins, it humbles us and magnifies Him. It is an act of worship, an act of praise and reverence. This type of confession is also similar to casting out a fishing line. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” Jesus said. When we are honest with others about our sinfulness and God’s faithfulness, it is like bait on the end of a fishing line. This world is starving for a need only Jesus can satisfy. Let’s show them what He can do. Let’s show them who He is. Let them see Him in us. Let them hear the Good News in the stories we tell, the salvation we profess, and the message we proclaim. He forgives because He loves, and we know that loves because He first loved us. Let’s share His forgiveness by giving it away as freely as we received it. Let’s draw others to Him by being open and honest in the confession of our sins. When I think about the importance of confession, I think about the woman caught in adultery. I think about when Jesus drew that line in the sand and asked those who were without sin to cast the first stones. I picture those stones falling to the ground as each person turned and walked away. An act of confession – I am not without sin. I have no right to judge. And it left only her and Jesus. It left only her and the only One who could judge, the One who could condemn, but He chose not too. That’s what our confession does. It points to Jesus. It allows Jesus to do what He does best. It gives Him control. It gives Him the power to forgive us as only He can. It gives Him the power to unite us as only He can.

Fasting & Prayer

“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose they will be heard for their many words. So, do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

– Matthew 6:5-8 NASB

Prayer is personal and private. It is a conversation between you and God. Corporate prayer is important as well – praying collectively as a group is powerful and it is vital for our churches and communities to grow and thrive, but it can’t replace our time alone with God. We need to listen closely to the instructions of Jesus and heed his advice. It is just as relevant now as it was then. We need to enter into our prayer closets and get alone with God in a secret place. We need to examine the motivation of our hearts. Are we praying to be heard by others or to be heard by God? Are we repeating meaningless words, or are we being intentional with the words we are praying?

What is the purpose of prayer?

  • Communication – When we pray, we’re having a conversation with God. We’re talking to our Father. We’re talking to our Best Friend. It’s not intended to be impressive. We don’t need to overthink it or try to say all the right words. God knows what we need before we ask. He just wants to hear from us. He just wants to commune with us.
  • Submission – Prayer is about humbling ourselves before God. It is how we ask Him for a specific need or desire. It is how we confess our sins. It is how we honor Him and give Him reverence. We can’t take for granted the immensely undeserved gift it is to be able to enter His presence. We don’t need to physically bow down knees or lay prostrate before Him every time we pray, but we should be aware of the posture of our heart. We need to enter His presence with humility and respect, because He is God and we are not. He is worthy, and we are not. We need to surrender ourselves before Him.
  • Intercession – The Spirit intercedes for us when we don’t have the words to pray. Romans 8:26 says He intercedes for us “with groanings too deep for words.” We pray in the name of Jesus, because it is through the sacrifice of Jesus that we have access to God. We don’t need to make a blood sacrifice to enter His presence, because Jesus became our sacrifice. We don’t need a priest to forgive us of our sins, because Jesus became our High Priest. The veil has been torn. We can enter into the Holy of Holies because of Jesus. Jesus is our intercessor, and because of His intercession, we too can intercede for others. Have you ever considered that maybe you are where you are in life right this moment because someone at some point in their life interceded for you when you were far from God?
  • Transformation – The purpose of prayer is to transform us from the inside out. The purpose of prayer is to shift our focus from the object of our fear to the object of our faith. Our prayers are not intended to change God’s mind, but to change our hearts. When I pray, it puts things into clearer focus. My perspective changes because I am looking up instead of looking around. We are transformed by the power of prayer.

Jesus didn’t just tell us how to pray, He showed us how.

“Pray then, in this way: Our Father who is in Heaven, Hallowed be Your Name. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.”

Matthew 6:9-13 NASB

“Our Father who is in Heaven, Hallowed be Your Name.”

In the first two words of this prayer, Jesus shows us how to address God in prayer. We come to God because of the relationship we have with Him. We come to Him as a child coming before their Father. Prayers in the Old Testament often addressed God as Lord, but in the New Testament He is addressed as Father. Our relationship with Him is more personal because of Jesus. Prayers in the Old Testament often addressed Him as “The God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of Abraham, etc.” but the New Testament refers to Him as Our Father. We are adopted children. We are prodigal sons and daughters. We are heirs to the throne. He is not only the God of the patriarchs; He is our God. He is our Father.

He is our Father who is in Heaven. With these words, Jesus shows us where our prayers should be directed. Our prayers are directed upward, towards the Heavens. Looking to Heaven allows us to reflect on the greatness of God. It humbles us and magnifies Him. Looking toward Heaven puts our thoughts into perspective. Isaiah 55:9 says, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

The inclusion of the phrase “Hallowed be Your Name” shows us that prayer should be entered into with a heart of worship and reverence. “Hallowed” means to be holy and set apart. His name is YHWH – a name too Holy to even be written or spoken in the Hebrew language. YHWH means “becoming one.” He becomes who we need Him to be. He is El Roi meaning He is the God Who Sees. He is El Shaddai, the Almighty God. He is Jehovah Jirah, our Provider. He is Jehovah Nissi, our Banner of Victory. He is Jehovah Shalom, our Peace. He is Jesus. He is Yashua which means “The Lord has become our salvation.” He is Immanuel, God with us. In Exodus, God told Moses, “I am who I am.” In the book of John, Jesus issued seven “I am” statements. I am the Bread of Life. I am the Light of the World. I am the Gate. I am the Good Shepherd. I am the Resurrection and the Life. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I am the True Vine. He becomes what we need. He is all that we need. He is the I Am, and His Name is Holy.

“Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”

Kingdoms represent royalty, power, and dominion. The Kingdom of God is a Monarchy. A monarchy can be trusted when the King can be trusted, and our King is worthy of trust. Matthew 6:33 tells us to “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Jesus prays for God’s Kingdom to come – meaning it must move from one place to another. Jesus prays for God’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. It’s important that Jesus included this, because our human will is often in opposition of God’s will. Jesus Himself in the Garden before His death prayed, “If it be your will let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will but your will be done” (Luke 22:42).

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

A prayer for bread is a prayer for provision and nourishment. Our physical well-being is an important part of our spiritual well-being. Pray for what you need, but know that it may not always look like what you think it should. When the Israelites were hungry in the wilderness and prayed for bread, God sent manna down from the sky. It wasn’t any kind of bread they had ever seen before. It was flaky and appeared like dew on the ground. The word Manna in Hebrew means “What is it?” because they had never seen anything like it before. But it was God’s provision, and it was exactly what they needed. God gave them enough for each day and told them not to store it up. They took only enough for that day, and trusted God to supply it again the next day.

Jesus prayed, “Give us this day our daily bread.” He didn’t pray for a week’s worth of bread, or a month’s worth of bread, or five-year supply of bread. He asked only for today. In Matthew 6:34 He tells us, “Take no thought about tomorrow for tomorrow has enough worries of its own.” We should pray for daily provision, and trust for divine provision tomorrow. Jesus asks God to give us the bread. That tells us that God’s provision can’t be bought, and it can’t be earned. It’s given. It’s a free gift of grace.

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

A debt is that which is owed. It is justly and legally due. Romans 6:23 tells us the wages of our sin is death. Your wage is that which is earned. When we work for sin, when we focus our time and energy on sinful thoughts and activities, then the payment we are due is death. A debtor was often tormented, thrown into prison, or sold as slave until the debt was paid. Jesus lived a perfect life. He was without sin, but He died to pay a debt He didn’t owe. God gives because He loves. As He loved us and forgave our debt, so should we love and forgive those who sin against us.

This is the only part of Jesus’ prayer that He expounds on later. In verses 14 and 15 He says, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” This tells us that we should pray with sincerity. We shouldn’t pray a prayer if we aren’t willing to do what needs to be done to make it a reality. We can’t pray for forgiveness if we aren’t willing to forgive. God knows our heart. He knows our intentions. Forgiveness is no easy task. It is so much easier said than done, but it can be done. We can forgive because we have been forgiven. True forgiveness is a powerful force of love. It is a powerful demonstration of the love God has for us.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Jesus covers past, present, and future needs in this prayer. The prayer for daily bread covers the present, the prayer for forgiveness covers the past, and “lead us not into temptation” is a prayer for the future. Jesus is asking for God’s leadership and guidance. He is asking for deliverance from the traps of the enemy. 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to withstand. It tells us God will provide a way of escape. This is Jesus praying for that escape. If we pray for it, then we have to be willing to look for it. When we’re caught up in the moment and temptation is right in front of us, it’s easy to put blinders on to any escape sign God may be trying to direct us towards. That’s why we have to be alert, be attentive, and pray without ceasing. We have to always be watching for God’s leadership, and we can’t allow ourselves to get into situations that will try to pull us off the path He has us on. When we do fall into temptation, we have to know that true repentance means turning away. It often seems that we’re in an endless loop of prayers for forgiveness and deliverance. Once our sin has been forgiven, we have to turn away and not look back. We have to focus on where God is leading us so we won’t be led astray.

“For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”

Jesus opened the prayer with a heart of worship, and He closed the prayer with a heart of worship. In the beginning, and in the end, He acknowledged the greatness of God. He acknowledged the Holiness and reverence of God. By closing the prayer in this way, Jesus is closing the prayer with comfort, confidence, and peace in who God is and in what He is able to do. He is closing the prayer on a note of hope.

Jesus didn’t say if you fast, but when you fast.

“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

– Matthew 6:16-18 NASB

Fasting as a Spiritual discipline is implied in Scripture. It wasn’t commanded, because it was already expected. Fasting should be a habitual, integral part of our Spiritual lives. Jesus was prepared for the wilderness because He had practiced the disciplines of study, silence, and solitude – but he fought and endured through the wilderness because He fasted and prayed. Fasting requires Self-Discipline, Self-Denial, & Self-Control. It’s a learning process. It is a way for us to exercise the power of our spirit over the power of our flesh.

What is the purpose of fasting?

  • Fasting starves the flesh to feed the spirit – The first ever temptation was a temptation to eat. Food is a foundational part of our humanity. Eve was tempted because it was pleasing to the eye. She saw it, and she desired it. Our fleshly desires are those human characteristics that instinctively draw us toward sin. We crave it. Fasting breaks up our habitual cravings and regular routines. On a regular day, we will eat 2-3 times per day without a second thought. When we fast, it redirects those thoughts and focuses them on God rather than on satisfying the needs of our flesh. Fasting and prayer move our fight from the physical realm to the spiritual realm.  Fasting from food is a way of feasting on God. We must be emptied to be filled. In Matthew 4:2-4, Jesus hungered in the wilderness. And when Satan tempted Him to turn some rocks into bread, He quoted Scripture saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the word of God.” In the next chapter, during His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:6, He declared, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
  • Fasting shifts the carnally minded to the spiritually minded – When our minds are set on carnal and fleshly things it leads to death, but when our minds set on the Spirit it leads to life and peace (Romans 8:6-7). The strongholds we face are a battle of the mind (2 Corinthians 10:3-5) and fasting allows us to take our carnal thoughts captive and replace them with positive, life-giving, spiritual thoughts. Fasting gives us a kick-start, a reboot, to cleanse our mind and focus our thoughts on things above.
  • Fasting strengthens us through weakness – In Psalm 109:24 the Psalmist said, “My knees are weak from fasting…” When our knees are weak, it puts us in a better position to hit the ground and pray. When our knees are weak, we’re more dependent on God and leaning on Him to hold us up and strengthen us. Without weakness, we wouldn’t know what it felt like to be strong. Without hunger, we wouldn’t know what it felt like to be filled. Our weaknesses point us to Christ. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 the Words of Jesus say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Our weaknesses demonstrate God’s strength.

In Matthew 17:14-21 Jesus encounters a boy with a demonic spirit. The disciples tried to drive on the demon, but they could not. Jesus cast the demon out, and afterwards the disciples came to Him asking why they could not do it. “Because of the littleness of your faith,” he said. “For truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible to you. But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” Fasting and prayer gives us the power to do what only Jesus can do. Fasting and prayer gives us the power to move mountains and drive out demons. It gives us the power to do the impossible in the name of Jesus.

2-Chronicles-7.14

 

Silence, Solitude, and Secrecy

In Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. In the original Greek language, the word for “led” in the first verse is anagō which means “to lead up” or “to bring to a higher place.” Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness. The wilderness was a higher place. I take comfort in that small detail of Scripture. I take comfort in knowing that when God leads me to dry, desolate, lonely, and solitary places it’s because He wants to take me higher spiritually. He wants me to reach new heights of Spiritual growth that only the wilderness can develop.

Think about a tree – the deeper the roots go, the higher the tree grows. But the deeper those roots go, the darker it becomes. That seed, when first placed in the ground, doesn’t know what’s yet to come. The seed doesn’t understand the purpose of being placed in the soil. The seed doesn’t see the tree it will become. There’s a saying I love that says, “Sometimes when we think we’ve been buried; we’ve just been planted.” It’s so true! Don’t negate those wilderness seasons of your life. Don’t lose hope in those dark days under the soil. There is a purpose yet to be revealed once you’ve endured this dark and lonely season.

In the wilderness, Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights. After fasting forty days and forty nights, He became hungry. And then Satan came to tempt Him. What does it tell us about Satan that he came after Jesus had fasted, after Jesus was hungry? It tells us that Satan comes to us when we are vulnerable. Jesus may have been physically weak for lack of food, but He was spiritually strong. Psalm 73:26 says, “My flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” We can be at our strongest spiritually when we are at our weakest physically because it is in those times that we are fully dependent and trusting on God to be our strength. Satan will choose to come against us at that very time, because it’s in those moments of spiritual strength that we pose the greatest threat to him and his demons.

Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights. This number is significant. It’s a number we see consistently throughout Scripture. When God flooded the earth and saved only Noah and his family, it rained for forty days (Genesis 7:17). When Moses received the Ten Commandments from God on Mt. Sinai, he fasted for forty days and forty nights (Exodus 34:28). The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years before reaching the Promised Land (Numbers 14:34). The number “forty” represents trials and testing. It represents a probationary period. It represents a time of preparation for what will come next. Consider the context of Jesus during this testing of His faith in the wilderness. Immediately before being led to the wilderness, Jesus was baptized. Immediately following His temptation in the wilderness, He began His public ministry. God leads us to wilderness seasons to prepare us for where He is taking us next.

Satan’s primary weapon of attack in the wilderness is deception. He deceives us by trying to get us to misinterpret God’s Word. He wants us to doubt God’s truth. He wants us to question God’s goodness. When he came against Eve in the Garden of Eden, he asked her, “Did God really say you must not eat from any tree in garden?” When he came against Jesus in the wilderness he said, “If you really are the Son of God, tell theses stones to become bread.” His subtly is his strategy, so we have to be attentive. He wants us to question our identity. He wants us to doubt who we are and who God is. He wants to doubt that we truly belong to the family of God. He wants us to doubt that God truly is good and has our best interest in mind. It’s easy to be swayed by the lies of the enemy if we aren’t firmly grounded in the truth of God’s Word. We have to cling tightly to Word of God and hide His Words in our heart, because that’s how we endure the wilderness. We combat the lies of Satan with the truth of God.

When Satan tempts us, he also appeals to our selfishness and pride. He tempts with instant gratification. Why wait when you can have what you want right now? Why give to others when you can keep for yourself? With Jesus, he urged Him to feed Himself, to save Himself, to take the kingdoms of the world for Himself. With Eve, he told her she would be like God. Jesus is the only One who actually IS God, but He resisted the temptation to prematurely put His divinity on display. Jesus was not thinking about Himself. He was thinking about us and about our need for a Savior. He faced the same temptations we do, but He sinned not. He was more concerned with our eternal salvation than with His own temporary satisfaction.

The first temptation Satan tried to lure Jesus with was food. Food is not sinful. Hunger is a perfectly normal and natural desire. But there are times when we are tempted to satisfy a perfectly normal or natural desire in a wrong way or at a wrong time – and Jesus resisted that temptation. Satan was tempting Jesus to use His divinity to satisfy the needs of His humanity. Looking forward to the cross, Jesus knew He would be faced with this same temptation. He could have used His divinity to save Himself from the physical pain of the cross, but He didn’t. In the desert, Jesus hungered, and on the cross one of the last words He uttered was “I thirst.” His humanity was fully on display in both instances. Jesus is fully human and fully divine. He sacrificed His human life to offer us eternal life, and He defeated death to show us how to truly live.

Satan’s next lure was mankind’s attention and awe. Once again, the longing for human affirmation is not sinful in itself, but when we live for that longing it becomes sinful. When we live to seek attention and applause, it is both self-serving and short-sighted. Jesus could have jumped off the highest point of the Temple and saved Himself, but He was looking ahead. He was looking beyond Himself. He knew He was there for a greater purpose. Instead of making a spectacle of Himself by performing this great feat, He chose instead to begin His ministry as a relatively unknown Rabbi, the son of a carpenter, a friend of sinners. Instead of capturing the attention and awe of the people in single moment, He chose instead to be hated and rejected by the people He came to save. He chose the path no one else would have chosen, to fulfill a purpose no one else could fulfill.

And the final temptation Jesus faced was the temptation of earthly power and possession. This temptation appeals to our innate desire for influence and authority. We all want to make a difference in this world, and Jesus could have done immense good with the power and authority Satan gave Him, but Satan was offering something that was not his to give. Satan is the prince of this present world, but Jesus had come to save the world yet to come. In the book Anonymous, Alicia Britt Chole writes, “Jesus had come to suffer for sinners. Satan suggested that He sin to avoid suffering. Jesus had come to die for the world. Satan offered him the world without dying… He tempted Jesus to give up His soul permanently to gain the world temporarily… Satan asked Jesus to trade the eternal for the visible, which is something he still invites us to do every day.”

Jesus counteracted the temptations of Satan with Scripture. The exact verses He used were Deuteronomy 8:3, Deuteronomy 6:16, and Deuteronomy 6:13. When you go back and read these verses, you realize how important it is that these are the verses Jesus used. Deuteronomy 8:2-5 in particular is Moses reminding the Israelites that God led them through the wilderness for forty years – testing them, and humbling them. The fact that Jesus chose this Scripture reveals His knowledge of Scripture. He knew exactly what verse He needed to recall to mind to resist the temptation, to endure the wilderness, and to remind Himself of the greater purpose of God at work.

Jesus was prepared for the wilderness because He practiced cultivation in His hidden years.

I first heard this phrase “practice cultivation” in a letter I received from a 14-year old girl named Grace who lived in Kenya and it has stuck with me ever since. I received a letter from Grace via Compassion International, and in this particular letter she was telling me all about the crops her family had been planting and harvesting that year. Then she asked, “Do you practice cultivation?” The question was so simple and beautiful. My honest answer was no – I’ve never tilled up a ground, never planted a seed, never waited and prayed for rain, never worked dawn to dusk in a field, never sweated and labored to produce a harvest of food. When I get hungry, I usually get in my car and drive around a building for them to hand me an already prepared meal out a window. Or maybe, I’ll walk into a building with shelves lined with food that has already been labored over and is packaged and ready for me to take home and prepare. I don’t practice cultivation, and it pained me to admit that. In a sense, it felt like I was making a confession of guilt.

And then I thought about it on a spiritual level. Do I practice cultivation? And once again, my honest answer would likely be no. Not nearly as often or as much as I should. I go to church and listen to the Pastor, but then I go home, and what happens? Maybe I’ll get in a a good routine of prayer and study for a few weeks, maybe even a few months, and then it will dwindle away again. Maybe I practice cultivation, but I don’t do it well. To cultivate means to “prepare and use land for crops or gardening; to promote or improve the growth of a plant by labor and attention.” If you’re in a wilderness season of your life right now, a season when you feel lonely and God feels distant or quiet – till the ground. Start practicing cultivation. The wilderness you’re in is a gift, an opportunity to prepare and use the land. It’s a blank canvas. We practice cultivation by practicing spiritual disciplines. When you practice spiritual disciplines, you are making an investment in your future and in the Kingdom of God. You are investing your time and energy towards producing a harvest of spiritual growth that will feed generations to come. God wants to use you in this season.

One of the most eye-opening experiences I ever had when reading the Bible was when I read Jeremiah 29:11 in full context. Jeremiah 29:11 is one of my favorite verses. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” During this time, the Israelites were in exile in the wilderness and they were starting to get defeated and discouraged. They were losing hope that they would ever make it out alive. A false prophet came and told they would be free in two years. It gave them hope, but it was a false hope. They were being comforted with a lie. Then Jeremiah came with a word from God. He told them to get comfortable in the wilderness – to build houses, plant gardens, get married, and have children. He told them they would be there for another 70 years, and then God would come and fulfill His promise. This was a hard truth, but it was truth nonetheless. Imagine their disappointment if those two years had come and gone and they were still not free? They would have lost complete hope and trust in God’ promises. They would have wasted two years of their lives waiting for a deliverance that would never come. Instead, they were able to practice cultivation in the wilderness. They were able to live full, expectant, and hopeful lives for those 70 years.

When you think about cultivation, how is it that you cultivate a relationship? Relationships are cultivated through communication – by talking, and listening, and asking questions. Relationships are cultivated by spending time together – you pick up on the other person’s likes, interests, and personality traits when you are interacting with them on a regular basis. Relationships are also cultivated by establishing trust. Trust is established by a lot of little moments that add up over time. Trust happens when you show up and do what you said you were going to do. Trust happens when you follow through with your commitments consistently.

So, with that in mind, how do we cultivate our relationship with God? It’s simple: Communication, Spending Time Together, and Establishing Trust. Silence, Solitude, and Secrecy. We communicate with Him in our silence. We spend time with Him in our solitude. We learn to trust Him when He consistently shows up in the secret places and spaces our hearts.

Silence

Silence is an important part of the way we communicate with God because we learn in 1 Kings 19:11-13 that He speaks in a still, small voice. I once heard a message by Steven Furtick in which He talked about why God whispers – and that’s because you only whisper to someone when they’re close beside you. God is close to us. That’s why He whispers. It’s intimate. It’s personal. It’s between Him and us. Another reason silence is important is because faith comes through hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17) and we can’t hear His Words if we’re distracted by all the noise around us. When we’re silent in His presence, we’re more attentive. When we’re more attentive, we’re more receptive. God is speaking, but are we really listening? Can we really hear?

Have you ever noticed that we’re afraid of silence? Why is that? I think it’s because we don’t like being alone with our own thoughts. We always tend to fill the silence with music, tv, and mindless chatter. In our society and in our culture, we are never truly in silence. Even with no music, no TV, and no one around me talking – I can still hear the hum of the AC, the passing of cars outside the window, the ticking of a clock in the other room. To be in complete silence would be such a stark contrast from our daily lives that it would throw us into a state of shock and panic. As Dallas Willard writes in Spirit of the Disciplines, “Silence is frightening because it strips us as nothing else does, throwing us upon the stark realities of our life. It reminds us of death, which will cut us off from this world and leave only us and God.”

The quieter we become, the more we hear. When we get quiet, we listen better. The less I talk, the fuller my words become. We need to learn the art of thinking before we speak. That’s why practicing silence and getting into a quiet place with God, is considered a spiritual discipline. We need to embrace the quiet. Lamentations 3:26 tells us to “wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.” In Psalm 62:1, David writes, “I wait quietly before God for my victory comes from Him.” Isaiah 30:15 tells us our strength is found “in quietness and confidence.”

Solitude

Solitude is how we spend time alone with God. Jesus Himself would often withdraw to quiet, solitary places to be alone with God. Mark 1:35 says, “Before daybreak, Jesus got up and went to an isolated place to pray.” Matthew 14:13 says, “He left in a boat to a remote area to be alone.” In Luke 5:16 we are told that Jesus “often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” And He invites us to do the same. In Mark 6:31-32 He told His disciples, “Let’s go by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” In Matthew 6:6 He says, “When you pray, go away by yourself and shut the door.”

Similar to silence, we tend to fear solitude as well. In fact, one of our worst forms of punishment in the Western world today is solitary confinement. Dallas Willard describes our fear of solitude by saying, “In solitude, we confront our own soul with its obscure forces and conflicts that escape our attention when we are interacting with others… It serves to crack open and burst apart the shell of our superficial securities. It opens out to us the unknown abyss that we all carry within us… We can only survive solitude if we cling to Christ there.”

Secrecy

Secrecy is not one of the well-known spiritual disciplines, but it is a discipline nonetheless. Secrecy is one of the ways we build trust and intimacy with God. Throughout the Gospels, have you noticed that Jesus often told His followers to “tell no one” of the miracles He performed? We see this in Mark 1:40-45 and Mark 7:32-37. Why do you think Jesus would say this? I don’t know the answer for sure, but one thing I do know is that when God heals us, our lives reflect it. Our testimony speaks for itself. Our newfound joy seeps out in our words and in our actions. Jesus wanted to be known for the message He spoke, not simply for the miracles He performed. He wanted people to follow Him because of who He was, not because of what He could do for them. He wanted followers of genuine faith, not superficial faith. After all, true faith is believing without seeing. Secrecy is an important part of our relationship with God, because if you’ve ever prayed a prayer that was only between you and God and then you saw that prayer answered, then you know how powerful that is. You can’t help but be amazed. It’s such a bolster to our faith, because it shows us that we are seen, and loved, and heard by God. We walk away from those moments knowing that only God could have come through in the way that He did because only God knew the true desire and plea of your heart.

There are countless times throughout Scripture when reference is made to a “secret place.” Psalm 139:15 says we are formed in the secret place. Those 9 months when we are hidden in our mother’s womb are essential for our growth and development. Psalm 27:5 tells us we are protected in the secret place. He shelters us in His Temple and places us up on a high rock where out of the enemy’s reach and safe from the storms around us. Psalm 91:1-2 tells us we find rest in the secret place. If we live in His shelter, we will find comfort and security in His shadow. In Exodus 33:20-23 we learn that it is in the shadow where we can experience God’s presence. Moses had to remain hidden in the crevice of a rock while God’s Spirit passed by – and still His face shown so brightly that everyone knew He had been with God before He ever spoke a word. As Dallas Willard writes, “In the discipline of secrecy – we abstain from causing our good deeds and qualities to be known… As we practice this discipline, we learn to love to be unknown and even to accept misunderstanding without the loss of our peace, joy, and purpose… Secrecy rightly practiced enables us to place our public relationship department entirely in the hands of God, who lit our candles so we could be the light of the world, not so we could hide under a bushel. We allow him to decide when our deeds will be known and when our light will be noticed.”

Be silent before Him.

Be still in His presence.

Dwell in the secret place.

In that stark aloneness – in that silence and solitude that only wilderness seasons reveal – build a house, plant a garden, and get comfortable. Practice cultivation in the wilderness. Practice spiritual disciplines. Lift your eyes, heart, and hands to the Heavens – and know that He is God. He is preparing you through this season. He is preparing you for greater things that are yet to come.