I applied for a position in a Christian organization years ago and was presented with a list of legalistic rules having to do with the use of alcohol, tobacco, and certain forms of entertainment. “We expect Christian behavior from our employees” was the explanation. I could agree with this list because I, for reasons mostly unrelated to my faith, didn't do those things. But my argumentative side thought, Why don’t they have a list about not being arrogant, insensitive, harsh, spiritually indifferent, and critical? None of these were addressed.
Following Jesus can’t be defined by a list of rules. It’s a subtle quality of life that’s difficult to quantify but can best be described as “beautiful.”
The Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3–10 sum up that beauty: Those who are indwelt by and dependent on the Spirit of Jesus are humble and self-effacing. They’re deeply touched by the suffering of others. They’re gentle and kind. They long for goodness in themselves and in others. They’re merciful to those who struggle and fail. They’re single-minded in their love for Jesus. They’re peaceful and leave behind a legacy of peace. They’re kind to those who misuse them, returning good for evil. And they’re blessed, a word that means “happy” in the deepest sense.
This kind of life attracts the attention of others and belongs to those who come to Jesus and ask Him for it.
One evening years ago, my wife and I were making our way down a mountain trail, accompanied by two friends. The trail was narrow and wound around a slope with a steep drop on one side and an unclimbable bank on the other.
As we came around a bend, I saw a large bear moseying along, swinging his head from side to side, and quietly huffing. We were downwind and he hadn’t detected our presence, but he would soon.
Our friend began to rummage around in her jacket for a camera. “Oh, I must take a picture!” she said. I, being less comfortable with our odds, said, "No, we must get out of here." So we backed up quietly until we were out of sight—and ran.
That’s how we should feel about the dangerous passion to get rich. There’s nothing wrong with money; it's just a medium of exchange. But those who desire to get rich "fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction,” Paul wrote (1 Timothy 6:9). Wealth is only a goad to get more.
Instead, we should “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness” (v. 11). These traits grow in us as we pursue them and ask God to form them within us. This is how we secure the deep satisfaction we seek in God.
My old dog sits by my side and stares off into space. A penny for her thoughts. One thing I know she isn’t thinking about is dying, because dogs don’t “understand.” They don’t think about future things. But we do. No matter our age or health or wealth, we at some point think about dying. That’s because we, unlike beasts, have “understanding,” according to Psalm 49:20. We know that we will die, and there’s nothing we can do about it. “No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them” (v. 7). No one has enough money to buy himself or herself out of the grave.
But there is a way out of the finality of death: “God will redeem me from the realm of the dead,” insists the psalmist. "He will surely take me to himself” (v. 15) (literally, “He will take me in”). Robert Frost said, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. ” God has redeemed us from death through His Son, "who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Timothy 2:6). Thus Jesus promised that when our time comes, He will greet us and take us in (John 14:3).
When my time comes, Jesus, who gave to God the price of my life, will welcome me into His Father's house with open arms.
Years ago my son Josh and I were making our way up a mountain trail when we spied a cloud of dust rising in the air. We crept forward and discovered a badger busy making a den in a dirt bank. He had his head and shoulders in the hole and was vigorously digging with his front paws and kicking the dirt out of the hole with his hind feet. He was so invested in his work he didn’t hear us.
I couldn't resist and prodded him from behind with a long stick lying nearby. I didn’t hurt the badger, but he leaped straight up in the air and turned toward us. Josh and I set new world records for the hundred-yard dash.
I learned something from my brashness: Sometimes it’s best not to poke around in other people’s business.
That's especially true in relationships with fellow believers in Jesus. The apostle Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). We pray for others and seek by God’s grace to share the Scriptures and occasionally we may be called on to offer a gentle word of correction. But learning to live a quiet life and not meddling into others’ is important. It becomes an example to those who are now outside God’s family (v. 12).
Our calling is to “love each other” (v. 9).
In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion return to Oz with the broomstick that empowered the Wicked Witch of the West. The Wizard had promised, in return for the broomstick, that he would give the four friends their deepest desires: a ride home for Dorothy, a brain for the Scarecrow, a heart for the Tin Man, and courage for the Cowardly Lion. But the Wizard stalls and tells them to come back the next day.
While they plead with the Wizard not to send them away, Dorothy’s dog Toto pulls back the curtain, behind which the Wizard spoke, to reveal that the Wizard isn’t a wizard at all, He’s just a fearful, fidgety man from Nebraska.
It is said that the author, L. Frank Baum, had a serious problem with God, so he wanted to send the message that only we have the power to solve our problems.
The apostle John in contrast pulls back the veil to reveal the truly Wonderful One behind the “curtain.” Words fail John (note the repeated use of the preposition like in the passage), but the point is well made: God is seated on His throne, surrounded by a sea of glass (Revelation 4:2, 6). Despite the troubles that plague us here on earth (Revelation 2–3), God is not pacing the floor and biting His nails. He is actively at work for our good, so we can experience His peace.
Years ago, I was invited to speak to the residents of a university’s fraternity house. They had a reputation for rowdiness so I brought along a friend for support. They were in a celebratory mood, having just won a football championship. At dinner, chaos reigned! Eventually, the president of the house announced: “There are two guys here that want to talk about God.”
I rose on rubbery legs and began to tell them of God’s love, and the room grew still. There was rapt attention. A vigorous and honest Q & A followed. Later, we started a Bible study there and in subsequent years many found the Savior.
I recall many days like that when I “saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning,” but there were other days when it was I who fell—flat on my face.
Luke 10 tells of Jesus’s disciples returning from a mission to report great success. Many had been brought into the kingdom, demons were put to flight, and people were healed. The disciples were pumped! Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (v. 18). But then He issued a caveat: "Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (v. 20).
We delight in success. But we may despair when we seem to fail. Keep doing what God has called you to do—and leave the results to Him. He has your name in His book!
For some months now I’ve been corresponding with a young man who is thinking deeply about faith. On one occasion he wrote, “We’re no more than teeny, tiny, infinitesimal blips on the timeline of history. Do we matter?”
Moses, Israel’s prophet, would agree: “Our days . . . quickly pass, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10). The brevity of life can worry us and cause us to wonder if we matter.
We do. We matter because we are deeply, eternally loved by the God who made us. In this poem Moses prays, “Satisfy us . . . with your unfailing love” (v. 14). We matter because we matter to God.
We also matter because we can show God’s love to others. Though our lives are short they’re not meaningless if we leave God’s love behind. We’re not here on earth to make money and retire in style, but to “show God” to others by showing them His love.
And finally, though life here on earth is transient, we are creatures of eternity. Because Jesus rose from the dead we will live forever. That’s what Moses meant when he assured us that God will “satisfy us in the morning with [His] unfailing love.” That “morning” we will rise to live and love and be loved forever. And if that doesn’t create meaning I don’t know what does.
Back in my sermon-making days I approached some Sunday mornings feeling like a lowly worm. During the week before, I had not been the best husband, father, or friend. I felt that before God could use me again I had to establish a track record of right living. So I vowed to get through the sermon as best I could and try to live better the coming week.
That was not the right approach. In Galatians 3 it’s said that God continually supplies us with His Spirit and works powerfully through us as a free gift—not because we’ve done anything or could do anything to deserve it.
Abraham’s life demonstrates this. At times he failed as a husband. For example, he twice put Sarah’s life in jeopardy by lying to save his own skin (Genesis 12:10–20; 20:1–18). Yet his faith “was credited to him as righteousness" (Galatians 3:6). Abraham put himself in God’s hands despite his frequent failures, and God used him to bring salvation to the world through his lineage.
There’s no justification for behaving badly. Jesus has asked us to follow Him in obedience, and He supplies the means to do so. A hard, unrepentant heart will always hinder His purposes for us, but His ability to use us doesn’t depend on a lengthy pattern of good behavior. It’s based solely on God’s willingness to work through us as we are: saved and growing by grace. You don’t have to work for His grace—it’s free.
A woman I know planned an event at a local park and invited all the neighborhood children to participate. She was excited about the opportunity to share her faith with her neighbors.
She recruited her three grandchildren and two high school students to help her, gave the assignments, planned a number of games and other activities, prepared food, worked on a story about Jesus to present to the children, and waited for them to gather.
Not a single child showed up the first day. Or the second day. Or the third day. Yet, each day my friend went through that day’s activities with her grandchildren and helpers.
On the fourth day, she noticed a family picnicking nearby and invited the children to join in the games. One little girl came, entered into the fun, ate with them, and listened to the story about Jesus. Perhaps years from now she will remember. Who knows what the outcome will be? God, through the book of Galatians, encourages us, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people” (6:9–10).
Don’t worry about numbers or other visible measures of success. Our job is to be faithful to what He wants us to do and then leave the harvest to Him. Outcomes are of the Lord.