Paul's Ponderings

Thoughts about following Jesus

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We need to be Enlightened

{Ephesians 1:18; NLT}
I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.

Before a sinful man can think a right thought of God, there must have been a work of enlightenment done within him; imperfect it may be, but a true work nonetheless, and the secret cause of all desiring and seeking and praying which may follow.

We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit. “No man can come to me,” said our Lord, “except the Father which hath sent me draw him,” and it is by this very prevenient drawing that God takes from us every vestige of credit for the act of coming. The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is our following hard after Him; and all the time we are pursuing Him we are already in His hand.”

A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, p. 5

Questions to consider:

  • Why do we need our hearts “flooded with light”?
  • In what ways do we have wrong thoughts about God? How can we start to think right about Him?
  • How have you experienced God drawing you to Himself?

Be Alone with God

Alone with God{Matthew 6:5-6; NLT}
“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”

A temptation that Christians face is to substitute following Jesus with living a religious life. The reason this is easy to do is because religion feels “spiritual”, and the purpose of religion is to connect us to God. Yet, religion often stunts the spiritual formation of our lives.

One of the ways we will know that we have a problem in our relationship with God is when our “spiritual” life is done entirely in public and for the show of others. We neglect using our private time to connect to God, but we use public moments to appear “spiritual” or “religious” so we can impress people. In my life the people I have wanted to “show off” my “spiritual” life have been my family and a small group of friends. Who has it been for you?

Way back in 1895 a pastor by the name of Andrew Murray wrote:

If you are not willing to sacrifice time to get alone with him, and to give him time every day to work in you, and to keep up the link of connection between you and himself, he cannot give you that blessing of his unbroken fellowship. Jesus Christ asks you to live in close communion with him. Let every heart say: “O, Christ, it is this I long for, it is this I choose.” And he will gladly give it to you. (Humility and Absolute Surrender, emphasis added, p. 157).

I think Andrew Murray hits on one of the common experiences we all have as we follow Jesus: selfishness with our time. The older we get the less time we seem to have, and yet we seem to find the time to watch movies, hang out with friends, go to the mall, or skim through Facebook. What gets sacrificed in the process is our relationship with Christ, and thus our connection to the source of new life that will transform our lives.

The most important choice we can make each and every day is the choice to put aside good things and spend time with God through prayer, reading, worship, and meditation. God longs to give us life, but we must spend time with Him to discover it.

Questions to consider:

  • Why is it important to find time to be alone with God?
  • Has religion become an obstacle in your relationship with God?
  • What are some way you connect with God on a regular basis?

Leave Comfort Behind

Leave the GoodWhat most of us want out of life is comfort and security. We are not asking for millions of dollars, mansions, and luxurious vacations, but a life that is free from dangers and hassles. The hope for security and comfort is the reason many of us ask for God’s blessings.

I have recognized this reality in my life as I envision the life I want for my children. I don’t want them to face danger, poverty, persecution, or any of the other evils that exist in this world. My hope for them is to follow Jesus in the same comfort and security that I have. But is that what is best for them? Is that what is best for me?

It is in this area of comfort and security that many Western Christians clash with God’s will. Some how the lie of the enemy has infiltrated our teaching, and we have come to believe that God’s blessings equal comfort and security. The result is that we have worshiped God because of the blessings, and not because of who He is. Like the Israelites in the wilderness we only worship and follow God when He blesses us.

True faith follows God into unknown, even at that cost of our comfort and security:

  1. God called to Abram. The call meant Abram needed to leave his homeland and everything he knew to follow God to a land that He would give Abram. Abram left, and through the uncertainty he learned to trust God. For this to happen Abram (Abraham) had to leave the comfort of the life he knew and follow God into the great unknown.
  2. Nicodemus came to Jesus to ask whether Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus told Nicodemus that he needed to abandon the religion he knew, the religion that gave him comfort and security, and put his trust in Jesus. Nicodemus didn’t understand what Jesus meant, but he decided to follow Jesus, and his life changed. No longer did Nicodemus trust solely in the Law, but he trusted the Giver of the Law.
  3. A rich young man came to Jesus with a question. “How do I get eternal life?” Jesus gave him an answer that the young man didn’t expect. The young man was looking for a discipline or a ritual to add to his collection of good works, but Jesus said, “Sell what you have and give it to the poor, and then come follow me.” The young man went away sad, because he was unwilling to give up what was comfortable. He missed out on God, because he insisted on trusting his wealth more than he trusted God.

When God calls us into the unknown, it is imperative that we follow. It might be a call to physically move to another city, or it could be a call to change a dearly held belief, or it could be a call to serve the outcasts. Whatever the call, there is a reason God is calling us. Only by leaving what is comfortable and known and following Jesus can we experience God for who He truly is. It is my belief that we ultimately worship God by following Him into the unknown.

This means worship is more than singing songs. Worship happens through a life that is totally surrendered to God. God deserves more worship than singing a few songs on Sunday morning. God deserves our entire lives surrendered to Him. This is why worship happens best through our trust in God.

I also believe that it is by following God into the unknown that we learn the most about God. Study is very important. I love to study the Bible, and I think it is essential to our spiritual formation. We should never neglect to the study of God’s word. Yet, it is experience that makes what we know about God move from our heads into our hearts. Experience enables us to know God, and not just information about God.

We desire a life of comfort and security. Many of God’s blessings help us experience these things, but if we are not careful, these very same blessing can inhibit us from truly experiencing God in our lives. Often, the best way to experience God is to step out of our comfortable and secure lives to follow Jesus. We will rarely know where he is leading, but we can be confident that in the end we will be one step closer to becoming the people God created us to be.

Choosing Again and Again

{Romans 13:12; NLT}
The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living.

“But these character strengths don’t happen all in a rush. You have to work at them. Character is a slowly forming thing. You can no more force character on someone than you can force a tree to produce fruit when it isn’t ready to do so. The person has to choose, again and again, to develop the moral muscles and skills which will shape and form the fully flourishing character. And so, just as a long, steady program of physical training will enable you to do all kinds of things—run in a marathon, walk thirty miles in a day, lift heavy objects—which you would previously never have thought possible, so the long, steady program of working on the character strengths, the virtues, will enable you to live in a way you would never have thought possible, avoiding moral traps and pitfall and exhibiting a genuine, flourishing human life.”

N. T. Wright, After You Believe, p. 35

Questions to consider:

  • What does Paul say we are to do in Romans?
  • How do we do this?
  • Why are our choices essential to the development of our character?

Pure Religion

{James 1:26-27; NLT}

If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

Father in heaven, Thank You for all the blessings of my life. Everything, from the air I breathe to the clothes that I wear, are a gift from You. Help me to be grateful for these gifts and not take them for granted.

I confess that one of the things I have difficulty doing is controlling my tongue. Too often I allow my mood to dictate what comes out of my mouth. If I am having a bad day, I have no problem passing that on to other people through my words and actions. Forgive me for not controlling my tongue.

Lord, I ask that You will open my eyes to ways I can help people in need. I get consumed with my life: my goals, my problems, my desires, my struggles, which causes me to miss the needs of other people. Help me to live out my faith in love by helping those around me. Use me to be a conduit of Your love and grace, so people can experience You through my actions.

It is in the name of Jesus, my Lord and Savior, that I pray, amen.

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