Archive for October, 2017|Monthly archive page

Growing through serving

Our prayer group leader raised a question this week that refuses to let me go: How can you grow in serving others?

Christians believe we should be serving God and serving others.  But what difference does it make in our relationship with God?  Does it change us?  Does it make us more like Christ?

Serving others is a good thing.  But you can grumble while you’re serving – and that isn’t the kind of service God wants.

The word our prayer group leader used was “ministry”.  I have chosen “serving” instead because I think all believers can get involved in a ministry or service of some kind.

In my opinion, the person who is cleaning the church washroom is ministering to people just as much as the pastor preaching the sermon.  It’s just that we human beings tend to exalt the preacher and overlook the person cleaning the washroom.

I confess my first reaction to the prayer group leader’s question was to think of the cost of serving people.  There is a cost in time, effort and emotions.

Yet the cost is part of growing more like Christ.

For example, I have found that there are conflicts in churches as well as in the wider world.  Dealing with issues like that has thrown the spotlight on my own weaknesses and failings.  And I have learned that God loves people who disagree with me just as much as he loves me.

In other words, God is using these problems to change me and the way I view other people.

But there is much more to serving others than having the rough spots in my character smoothed.

My wife pointed to the real reason for serving others – doing everything for God.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” Jesus said in John 14:15.  And he said the great commandments are to love God and to love our neighbours.

Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) as an example of loving others.  The Samaritans were despised by orthodox Jewish believers in Jesus’ day but it was a Samaritan who helped a grievously wounded man while pious Jews avoided him.

In Matthew 25, Jesus makes clear that God takes seriously our acts of love to one another – separating people at the judgement according to whether they helped others or not.

In 1 Corinthians 10:31, the apostle Paul tells us that “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”.

Someone once asked Brother Lawrence, a 17th century French monk, about his close relationship with God.  He said that “he was pleased when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking him only, and nothing else, not even his gifts”.

That means I must do everything with God in mind.  I must act as if I was doing it for my Lord.  I may be helping someone – but it is more than that.  I am offering my help to God.

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Sing against darkness

Try singing to God the next time you feel low.  It may bring light into your darkness.

That’s a suggestion of Terry Laws in his book The Power of Praise and Worship.

Laws says he used that approach after the sudden death of his wife Jan decades ago.  He was angry against God and Satan was trying to discourage him from continuing his worldwide ministry leading a worship group.

He notes that Christ used the words of scripture to refute Satan when the evil one tempted Jesus in the wilderness at the outset of his ministry on earth.  God’s words are powerful defensive weapons.

“The devil does not flee the presence of God’s Word in your mind,” Laws says.  “He’s also not afraid of God’s work in your past.  He flees only when you resist, and you do so the same way Jesus did in the wilderness.”

To resist, you must speak out the word of God, just as Jesus did.

“There must come a time when you make a deliberate choice to launch the warhead of God’s Word against the stronghold of the devil,” says Laws.

Then, he adds: “Why not sing God’s Word right there in the middle of your battle? Just sing it right into the darkness, and set yourself to keep on singing it until the darkness starts to flee.”

That’s what he did when he was in despair after his wife’s death.

“I quoted and sang Psalm 34:1 over and over:’I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall constantly be in my mouth.’”

Laws continues: “I was shining the light of God on a dark lie sent to convince me that I couldn’t praise him anymore.  That light exposed satan’s stronghold for what it was.  The light was already there, in my memory, but I had to aim it into the darkness.”

Thankfully, Laws is not suggesting you have to be a good singer.  That would count me out.  You don’t even have to know a particular tune with which to sing the words.

Just sing however you wish – a made-up tune will do just fine.

Somehow, singing lifts our spirits.

Indeed, God sings over us as the prophet tells us in Zephaniah 3:17: “He [God] will take delight in you with gladness.  With his love he will calm all your fears.  He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

And the psalms were written to be sung.

As well, praise songs routed an attack of Moabites and Ammonites in King Jehoshaphat’s reign in the Old Testament.

Laws says we can turn to the scriptures to find words to fit our circumstances as we face doubts and evil thoughts sown by the Devil.

Sing God’s words until the darkness turns to light.

Only love

Sometimes, all you can do is love.

You can’t prevent your child from being bullied in the schoolyard or stop cancer from spreading in the body of your spouse or friend.

But you can love them in word or deed or prayer.  And you can hug them and join in their tears.

Love matters a lot.  I can remember many incidents of love from family and friends – they are burned into my memory.

They are as simple as my wife and eldest daughter showing concern for me immediately after I was wheeled out of prostate cancer surgery some years ago.  Or, unexpected acts of affection or kindness from my children and friends – too many to list.

Of course, Jesus placed priority on love – telling us to love God and to love our neighbours as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31).  He also told us to love others as he loved us – a very tall order since he gave his life for us (John 13:34).

The apostle Paul also stresses loving others in a passage in Romans 12:9-21 –  something our weekly men’s group discussed this last week.

He gives practical advice on how to love others – we must be sincere, cling to what is good, “be devoted to one another in brotherly love”.

He goes further to urge believers to “honour one another above yourselves” – very difficult for us without God’s help.  I am naturally self-centred and I believe many others are, too.

Paul then calls on us to  show hospitality and give to those in need.

And then he asks us to do the impossible – “bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse”.

When was the last time you blessed someone who attacked you or criticized you?  Exactly.  Very hard to do.

In fact, it’s impossible unless we submit to the Holy Spirit.  I believe it can only be achieved by asking God to empower us through the Spirit.

Paul tells us in Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

It seems to me that blessing those who persecute you is asking for good things for people who hurt you.  It is a really loving act.

It is like Jesus asking God the Father to forgive those who had just nailed him to the cross.  He did not seek revenge on them, but did the opposite.

In Romans 13:10, Paul says: “Love does no harm to its neighbour.  Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

In other words, I can’t go wrong if I love others with godly love, the love of Jesus.

Letting go

Letting go is hard to do.

When I want something, I plan and work to get it.  But God may have other ideas.

Sometimes, letting go is the key to opening the door to something amazing.

What is more ridiculous than a worship band leading the army of Judah in praising God as they advance to fight a huge invading army?

Yet we know from 2 Kings 20 that is exactly what Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, ordered when the great army of Ammon and Moab invaded Judah.

Jehoshaphat and his people were desperate when they called on God for help.  A prophet, Jehaziel, told the king and the people they would win a resounding victory without having to fight.

They decided to set out against the invaders, simply praising God.  The Lord took over, throwing the enemy forces into confusion, fighting each other.  And the Ammonite and Moabite forces were destroyed.

Jehoshaphat and his people had to let go of their good sense and their natural instincts and let God take over.  They did it because there was nowhere else to turn – their only hope was God.

Catherine Marshall tells a similar story in her book Adventures in Prayer.  

She had been sick for six months in 1943, suffering from a serious lung infection.  A bevy of specialists and passionate prayer had failed to deal with it.

Then, one day someone gave her a pamphlet about a woman who had been sick eight years, praying without seeing any improvement.  Finally, she told God that she gave up.

“If you want me to be an invalid, that’s your business,” the woman told the Lord.  “Anyway, I want you even more than health. You decide.”

In two weeks, the woman was out of bed completely cured.

Marshall finally reached the same point, weeping as she surrendered to God.  She told him: “I’m beaten, finished, God, you decide what you want for me.”

“Within a few hours I had experienced the presence of the living Christ in a way that wiped away all doubt and revolutionized my life,” Marshall writes. “From that moment, my recovery began.”

Letting go means giving up control to God.  It means acknowledging that he is my shepherd – the one who loves me, leads me, guards me and cares for me.

It’s a lesson I’m learning slowly.

Inner healing, outer healing

I heard a striking story last weekend which underlines God’s power in healing – both spiritually and physically.

An Australian-born speaker at a conference, organized by our son and daughter-in-law, described how God healed him years ago from two significant injuries: A serious shoulder problem and painful nerve damage in his neck.

The shoulder problem stemmed from a football injury which left a protruding bone sticking up from his shoulder and enduring pain.  The nerve damage sprang from a frightening incident on a farm when he fell beneath the hooves of a cow, stamping on his head.

He and his wife attended a healing service where the speaker urged those attending to ask the Holy Spirit for healing of whatever physical problem they had.  The Australian man focused his mind only on the nerve damage – and nothing happened.

Then, the speaker at the healing service said something like: “Someone’s shoulder has been healed.”

The Australian’s wife looked at him and told him it was his shoulder.  Indeed, the protruding bone had disappeared and his shoulder was normal.

But he wondered why the nerve damage remained.  So, he asked God why.

Over time, he felt the Lord was telling him that unforgiveness was standing in the way.  His uncle had abused him as a child – he did not say how – and he had never forgiven him.

When he forgave his uncle, the nerve damage disappeared and he was pain-free.

This story reminds me that Jesus healed people both spiritually and physically.  In fact, sometimes there was a close connection between spiritual issues and emotional or physical illness.

For example, Mark tells the story of Christ casting out evil spirits from a man in the Gerasenes region in Judea (Mark 5:1-20).  The man lived among tombs and was so strong he broke chains that people used in an attempt to bind him.  He would cry out and cut himself with stones.

When he saw Jesus, the man ran over to him and, falling in front of him, begged him not to torture him.  The Lord cast out the demons into a herd of pigs that rushed into the nearby lake.

The man himself was restored to complete mental health and returned home to his family and his people, telling them of Jesus’ miraculous act.

Jesus repeatedly called on his followers to forgive others.  And he went further on the cross and asked the Father to forgive the people who nailed Christ to the wooden beams.

Bitterness, anger, unforgiveness can affect us emotionally and mentally.  And sometimes physically.

The Australian’s story prompts me to think about how spiritual issues may be affecting me in my own life.

And how to surrender them to God.