The Love of God

If you have been introduced to another person, you can rightly say that you know them, in the sense of being aware of their existence.  But if you never go beyond that introduction and don’t know anything else about them aside from the fact that they exist, you can’t truly claim to know them in the sense of understanding who they are.  This is a truism which applies to man’s relationship with God as well: just because a person professes belief in God, that does not mean they know Him.  So how does one come to know God, especially given the fact that, while we are physical, we do not have the benefit of a face to face introduction, and cannot converse with God in the same way we can with our fellow man?

 

Because God is an infinite spiritual being without limitations, He can never be completely and perfectly known and understood by flesh and blood.  But if an attempt to do so were to be made, one might begin by describing His character.  And I believe no single characteristic would be able to provide greater insight and understanding into who God is than the one found in 1 John 4:8, which states, “God is love”.  What an amazing statement that is!  It doesn’t merely say God loves, it says He is love.  Love is not simply an attribute or quality that God possesses; rather, His entire being is founded upon, and declared or made known through, love!  So we begin to come to know God through understanding His love — and I would argue that all sincere efforts to know God more perfectly should inevitably lead to a more accurate and mature understanding of what love is — but since no one has ever seen or heard God at any time, how is His love made known?

 

The Father is made known through His Son and His love was and is ultimately expressed through what the Lord did:

“…the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”  (John 1:18)

“And this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us”. (1 John 3:16)

There is no action possible in this world that reveals more about God, the Father, than this sacrifice by His Son. The entire gospel message is built upon that singular foundation.  But the good news that Jesus died so we could have the opportunity to live with him forever also sets a lofty standard for love, and carries with it a daunting expectation — for all who profess Jesus to be their Lord and Master are required to live as he lived, and do as he did.  (1 John 2:6)

 

Because of that, it’s important for us to understand all that the Son of God did.  He did indeed die so that we might live, but he did much more than just laying down his life.    In truth, our Lord and Savior gave of himself, in service to others, without holding anything back for the full duration of his life.  His death only speaks to the sacrifice of his physical life, but there was also a spiritual sacrifice he had to make — one that is at least as poignant, if not more than, that which occurred at his crucifixion.  Before he suffered death, he first had to experience separation from God.  Those who love deeply in this life know the pain that separation can bring; but even the closest and best relationship you could imagine enjoying in this present world pales into insignificance when compared to the one shared by the Father and the Son.  Prior to his earthly incarnation, The Only Begotten One had spent a previous eternity enjoying perfect unity, harmony and communion with his Father, in His presence.  No two other beings in all of Creation will ever know so perfect a bond or experience that degree of closeness (John 1:18), yet our Saviour was willing to experience a temporarily diminished intimacy with God, as a means of expressing his love for us and the Father, by being obedient to His will.  Why was this necessary?  Partly because it was paramount that “… the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.” (John 14:31)

 

This act of obedience was for our benefit in many ways.  In addition to obviously being the way in which the penalty for sin was paid, which opened the way to eternal life, it also serves as a model and a lesson for us of one of the key ways we demonstrate our love to God.  Here are a few of the Lord’s own statements on the subject:

“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15)

“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.  He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” (John 14:21)

“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.  He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”

“You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:14)

“In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands.  And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.” (1 John 5:3-4)

 

From these and other statements, Jesus made it clear that unless we obey God, we cannot claim to love him, or even know him.  So another key way we come to know God better, and understand the nature of His love more perfectly, is to obey Him.  What then are those commands we are to obey, which John says are not burdensome?  We can turn to the Lord’s own words for the answer.  They are:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Regarding these commandments John wrote, “Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning [since the Law had already been known for centuries by that time].”  But he goes on to say,

“Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him [Jesus] and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” (1 John 2: 7-8)

What was this new command, whose truth is seen in Jesus, applicable for all who accept the title of “Christian”?  It is still: “Love one another.”  But it is now to be understood in a new light, one which began to shine when our Lord and Savior bled and died on our behalf.  The fullness of the law’s requirement to love your neighbor as yourself, is only realized in the command: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.  As I have loved you (In the same way as), so you must love one another.”  (John 13:34-35)   The love that Jesus had was a self-less love — one that was always ready and willing to sacrifice on behalf of others — and so the love we are to have is also one that is put into practice without consideration of “self”.  How critical of an issue is this for those who seek to know God and serve the Lord?

 

Consider the challenge Jesus posed to Peter, after Peter’s denial.  He said to him, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?  Peter had previously made the statement, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will. … Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”  (Matt. 26:33 and Luke 22:33)  Peter had believed that his own love for the Lord was superior to the love the other disciples possessed for Jesus.  Yet three denials in rapid succession proved his boast to be false, and showed that the comparative estimation of devotion he had made between himself and his brethren was unwarranted.  In Luke 22:61 we read that as soon as the final denial issued forth from Peter’s lips, “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.”  Could any words communicate more powerfully than the understanding that passed between them when they locked eyes in that moment?  Clearly, Peter saw the truth about himself right then and there, because it is written “And he went outside and wept bitterly.”  So now, because of that experience, in response to Jesus’s question, Peter simply acknowledged that Jesus knew him better than had known himself, and said, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”

 

But Jesus doesn’t stop there — he asks him again.  The focus of the first query was on the comparative aspect of the question. Essentially he had asked Peter, Do you really love me more than anyone else does?  But now the heart of the question changes to ask, Do you really love me more than you love anything else?  Jesus used the verb agapao, which indicates an ardent, supreme love.  And just as he did in response to the Lord’s first question, Peter replies that he has phileo (affection denoting personal attachment, as a matter of sentiment or feeling; while agapao has a wider connotation, embracing especially the judgement and deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety) for Jesus.  By this, Peter showed he understood his denials revealed that he had loved his own life more than he had loved his Master, and therefore, he could not truthfully claim to love him above everything else.

 

Jesus then used the same standard of phileo love Peter had professed in his two previous answers, once again slightly shifting the thrust of the question.  This time, it amounts to him asking, Are you even my friend?; and Peter was hurt that Jesus would ask him that.  Was Jesus being cruel by doing so?   Peter already knew he had failed, so why would Jesus press the issue like this?  Was it simply to rub Peter’s failure in his face, or was there still a deeper lesson he needed to learn?  I believe this last inquiry was intended to provide Peter with insight that would be crucial to his future success as the Lord’s servant.  In order to persevere in all that he would face in the future, he first needed to have a deeply reinforced understanding of why he had failed.  After Peter replies the final time, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you”, Jesus gives him the same instruction to “Feed my sheep.”  The message in John 21:15-17 essentially had been, “Even if you only have brotherly love for me, my command to you remains the same:  Feed my sheep.  That is how you will show your love for me.”  But notice what he says next:

“I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18)

 

How was this relevant to the conversation they had been having?  Before answering that, I think it is worth mentioning that throughout this entire discourse Jesus addresses Peter as “Simon, son of John”.  Simon, son of John encompasses his identity more completely than simply calling him Peter.  It carries a more serious tone, and conveys the sense that he is speaking to the very heart and soul of the man, not just the body in front of him.   With that in mind, here is how I interpret what Christ was communicating in verse eighteen:

Simon, son of John, my dearly beloved disciple, brother and friend, since the day you were born you have always been strong-willed (insisting on dressing yourself and going where you wanted).  But in the days to come, what will be required of you will exceed what you are able to accomplish by force of will alone.  Of course I know that you love me, but just as human affection and brotherly love were not strong enough for you to remain faithful to me in Gethsamene, so too are they inadequate for the work I have yet for you to do.  The reason you failed was because you relied on your own strength, rather than seeking and trusting in that love which can only be supplied by God.  The reason I’m challenging you like this now is so you fully understand that the only way to truly follow me and walk the path that I have just trod is to seek the love from God which surpasses all that man can attain.  That is how you will have success in feeding my sheep.

 

We’ve already read the passage in 1 John 5, which states that everyone born of God overcomes the world.  Overcoming the world means triumphing over evil by vanquishing it.  It has both internal and external applications, because before anyone can overcome the world, they must first overcome themself by having their essential nature altered down to its very foundation.  A self-oriented nature never overcomes the world — it only joins with it.  Over-comers are those who set aside concern for self and never let their love for others grow cold, in spite of all the evil and wickedness that occurs around them.  Through their constancy and steadfastness in love, they exert a godly influence on others.  By what means are they able to do this?  Through faith that Jesus is the Son of God.  The only way to persevere and endure hatred without becoming tainted by it, is to look to the example put before us by the Messiah’s sacrifice.

Peter had to learn that human love is insufficient to serve God effectively, because it is a fickle love, one that alters in response to the treatment it receives.  His lesson is also our lesson.  No one can manufacture godly love from within themself: not Peter, not you, not me.  Godly love can only be obtained from God, and we must seek Him continually, in order to receive that which is to be our daily spiritual bread.  Peter had believed he loved Jesus more than anything else and more than anyone else did, but He who knows the hearts of all men confronted him with the truth about what he was lacking.  I cannot imagine that our Lord would hesitate to do the same with us.  It is far too easy to lapse into the thinking that we are doing well as servants of God if, as a general rule, we go to church and are nice to people.  But we can keep the Sabbath our whole life, we could become the world’s preeminent Biblical scholar, understand every prophecy, have faith to move mountains, even give everything that we have and earn the praise of all men — and yet if we don’t have the love of God dwelling in us, we are nothing, and all our service is mere self-deception.

 

Because of that fact, Christ’s propechy regarding the condition mankind will be in prior to his return is a chilling one to me.  In Matt. 24:12 he says, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”  I’m confident that he wasn’t using hyperbole when he said that, which means true Christian, agape love will be nearly non-existent in the world at that time.  Whether we have reached those days which will herald the end of the age or not, God alone knows, so we need not occupy ourselves with such questions.  But we most certainly should be concerned about keeping the love of God alive within us at any and all times.  So how do we make certain that we will be among those who stand firm to the end?  That is a topic that I will save for my next post.  Until then, may the love of God be in you, and actively at work in your life.

 

 

 

 

Finding Joy in Trial

To all who believe in the Goodness of God,

When you encounter adversity in your life, whether it comes through no fault of your own, or because of your own words or actions, rejoice!   Your Heavenly Father is treating you as a son or daughter, and you are being perfected for the Kingdom of God!

Consider that gold and silver must first be melted in a furnace before their impurities can be removed.   The more thorough the refinement process is, the more perfect the end product becomes; and the purer the gold, the greater its value.

The same is true of trials.  Adversity is the process through which we must go in order to come to know ourselves more perfectly.  Life’s trials draw out our inconsistencies — the conflicts which exist within us between what we profess to believe versus what we actually do when put to the test.  For example, if we say we believe that we are to love our neighbor to the same degree and with the same strength as we love ourselves, do we then add conditions and disclaimers to that belief?  Rather than doing unto others as we would have them do unto us, in practice do we actually only do unto them as they do unto us?  Are we warm only to those who are kind to us, but cold to everyone else?

All trials are potential learning experiences, so the first thing we ought to do when we encounter adversity is look to God, as the source of all wisdom, and ask Him for understanding: “Father, what is it that you have for me to learn from my present circumstances?”.  Ask — and believe without doubting that you will receive — and you WILL be given your answer.  For why should you doubt?  Do you not believe that God intends ALL things for your benefit?  If we ask Him for things that are not only beneficial, but essential for our spiritual purification, do we imagine that He would ever possibly withhold them?  “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

But we must also be cognizant that the answers we seek won’t always arrive immediately.  Having believed, we must also persist in the conviction.  If the answer seems delayed, far off on some distant horizon, perhaps patience is part of the lesson.  We receive from God that which we expect from Him, so if our faith falters and our minds settle on uncertainty, we can rightfully expect that we will receive nothing.  God does not operate according to our timetables and schedules, so hold fast, persevere, and don’t let go until He answers!

Then, after we receive what we have asked for, the next step is to take the newly gained understanding, apply it, and begin to put it into practice consistently.  When we do this, we will have taken a significant stride towards perfection; and our value as servants of God will have grown.

Finally, remember also that the more fiery the trial, the greater its refining power.  Therefore let us welcome adversity into our lives as an honored, albeit temporary, guest: one who visits to unburden us of those things within which are false, so that only that which is true remains; and so we may become people of integrity, suitably equipped for service to God.

 

Self-deception and Service to God

King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them.  While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them.  So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them.  As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.  Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace.  The king watched the hand as it wrote.  His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his knees knocked together and his legs gave way.  Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant.  So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale.  This is the inscription that was written: Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin.  Tekel means, ‘You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.’  

What relevance does this story of a pagan king have for you or I as a Christian?  Simply this.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard someone utter the words, ‘I am a good person.’  Raise your hand again if you would apply that statement to yourself.  Despite the fact that even our Lord, who was without sin, acknowledged that ‘No one is good but One, that is, God.’ — I say despite this, it is natural for men to hold such an opinion about themselves.  And given that the tendency to think of oneself in this light is so pervasive, it’s reasonable to conclude that King Belshazzar also imagined that he was a “good” person.  But regardless of how the king perceived himself, God’s assessment — which is the only one that truly matters — is that his character was lacking in redeemable qualities.  So return with me to his reaction to the materialization of the ethereal hand.  Although he knew not what it wrote, he was shook to the very foundation of his being by its appearance, because at some tenuous level of his awareness, he perceived that it was not sent as an omen of good tidings.  That is an understatement.  Reading further into the account, we’re informed that his time in this world ended that very evening.  Try to imagine what it would feel like going to your grave with such a testimonial of your life and its value being recorded by the finger of God.  Does it make you shudder, as it did the king?

So how is it that he could be so blind to the reality of his condition, until it was too late?  Daniel, the servant who God used to read and translate the inscription to Belshazzar, pointed out that the king’s ignorance was without excuse, because he had full knowledge of how God had humbled his father, Nebuchadnezzar.  He chastises the king, “But you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this.  Instead you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven.  You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them.  You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand.  But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.  Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription.” (Dan. 5:22-24) So I ask again, how could he have failed to see “the handwriting on the wall”?  What prevented him from seeing himself as God saw him?  I believe the answer is he was blinded by human nature.

Human nature is self-oriented.  The love of self, woven into every fiber of our being so deeply as to be inoperable, instills us with a desire to be esteemed by others, and frequently causes us to view ourselves through the most flattering of lenses.  Love of self skews and distorts our judgement.  It makes us over-valuate our “good” actions, and shields our sins from our view.  We are, so often, our own greatest apologists.  Since rationalizing and justifying whatever it is we want to do comes so naturally, it is not difficult to picture Belshazzar consoling himself after Daniel’s rebuke with the thought, ‘I was just celebrating with my family and loyal supporters.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  It doesn’t make me a bad person.’  Whether he did so or not is not something Scripture concerned itself with, and so neither shall I.  However, we should be concerned with the harvest this condition of the heart yielded in Belshazzar’s life — and yet as tragic as it proved to be for him, for professed Christians the ultimate danger of the deceitfulness of our nature is made evident in the Lord’s warning delivered at the close of the Sermon on the Mount.

The entire sermon is recorded in chapters 5, 6, and 7 of the book of Matthew, but in 7:21-23, Jesus states, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!’”.  So what connection is there between the Lord’s admonition and Belshazzar’s demise?  As Christians, we are called to serve God.  It should be our highest purpose, and the number one priority of our lives.  But if we were to look through the microscope, and assess honestly, how closely does the reality of how we live align with the demands of our calling?  What if, right now, it doesn’t measure up?  What actions would we be willing to take?  If we are unconcerned, and do nothing, will there be anything more terrible for the supposed Christian than to have the Lord say, on the Day of Judgement, “I never knew you”?  Lest we feel secure that this pronouncement will apply as the exception, rather than the rule, bear in mind that Jesus said it will be directed to many.

Warnings such as this are intended to give us pause, and to cause us to take personal inventory of our spiritual life.  The bible is full of many such exhortations.  But God’s word also tells us that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?”  The heart, that which blinded Belshazzar and represents who and what we are in our central-most being — our very nature —  can blind us as well. So if the heart is so deceitful, how do we proceed to take an honest inventory of it?  We have to begin by asking God to show us our faults — to teach us what we cannot see — because it is only the working of the Holy Spirit, which gives access to God’s perspective, that enables a person to see themself as they truly are. 

I’ll share a personal example to show how God’s spirit works in us to direct our focus toward the corrections He would have us make in our lives.  A few years ago, I was seeking to understand God’s will for my life, and I asked Him, “What service would you have me do at this present time?”  I wanted my life to have a meaningful impact on others and, at the time, I was interested in starting, or at least working in, an orphanage.  In retrospect, I suppose I was looking to serve God through a particular career path, specifically the one most appealing to me, since I didn’t know of any other method of determining His will.  I never received an answer in that regard.  Instead, the response whispered by that still, small voice was, “Humble yourself.”  It seemed to me to be a very inadequate reply.  That’s not to say I saw no value in doing so, it’s just that I wanted to do great things for God, and I thought my time needed to be occupied by activities that would have a more practical benefit to others.  But service to God always starts with an internal process of refining.  I believe that any and all efforts to draw near to God must start with humbling oneself (which was the very thing Belshazzar was disinclined to do), and I see now that even if I occupied myself with nothing other than this single labor of service, the task is such that I would never be faced with a shortage of work to do.    

Why is it that service to God should start with humility?  One important aspect to understand regarding humility is that it correlates proportionally to the degree of faith a person has in God.  How so?  The more pride a person possesses, the less they look to God for help because they lack a sense of need.  The humble person however, recognizing their own inadequacy, depends upon God; and their faith is built as they receive the answers to their petitions for aid, which they directed to Him.  Humility is also the end-result of thinking about yourself less and less, so if an individual were to trust in God to provide for ALL of their needs with all of their heart, mind, soul and being, less thought and energy would be unnecessarily spent on self-considerations and could be re-allocated towards service to others.  And in the process, faith would grow and flourish: so we can see a link between humility, faith, and service to God (which is a reflection of our love, both for Him and our fellow man).

Another component of humility is being willing to submit our will in order to bring it into alignment with God’s.    When the Lord’s half-brother wrote about submission to God in James 4:1-10, he was speaking of a complete relinquishing of self — turning control of the direction of our lives over to God.  That entails consciously choosing to promote God’s glory rather than seeking to further our own agendas.  For indeed, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?”   Conflict arises because we want something, someone else wants the same thing, and there’s not enough for everyone — so we fight to see who gets to have it.  But when we do so, it shows where our interests ultimately lie.  The Kingdom of God is spacious enough to accommodate all who earnestly desire to enter it, and it knows no scarcity — so when obtaining it is our focus, we need not quarrel over the things of this life.  In order to promote God’s Way, we need to first forsake our own.  We need to learn to make ourselves small and stop seeking personal greatness.  We should be content with what God provides, leaving concern for material blessings to the children of the world; because God’s children have a far greater inheritance.   And when we set our sights on the heavenly abode and allow God to direct our path to it, we acknowledge that we cannot serve Him in the way of our own choosing — that which suits us best.  At least not if our Christianity is to be something other than a nominal one.  

If one desires proof of this, they need look no further than Luke 16:13.   It states, “No one can serve two masters.  Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and mammon.”  Mammon is commonly translated as money, or material wealth.  I believe this misses the mark; the meaning is too narrowly defined.  Money is only a resource — one that provides a means to pursue and obtain one’s own self-interests.  I believe the true intent of the passage is to convey the reality that it is impossible to serve God and the self-interests of the natural man at the same time.  Our time, energy, and resources are going to be spent doing one, or the other.  There exists no third alternative.    

With that in mind, I’d like to ask a different question now, but in order to frame it properly, allow me to draw the discussion of humility to a close with one more observation.  Humility is an essential safeguard to protect us from the danger of self-deception; a critical ingredient in equipping us to overcome it.  It requires that we be willing to embrace the truth about ourselves, so here is an honest question to reflect upon: What percentage of our time is expended upon laboring in our chosen careers, simply to obtain the necessities of life?  How much do we then further exhaust ourselves to ensure our ability to procure all the additional luxuries we might desire?  Extend the examination a bit further.  What percentage of our “free” time is used in the pursuit of enjoying these comforts?  How much is required for the passive activity of simply “decompressing” from the stresses of the day?  I’m not saying these things are bad, or wrong, in and of themselves, brethren.  We are not machines.  Life needs to have its enjoyments, even for the most dedicated servant of God.  But when we add it all up, what is left for God?  Go a step further: in our labor for Him, are the efforts we do make truly the best we could give?  Even if they are, who can rightfully claim to be offering their all?  If we take an honest inventory of how we have stewarded the spiritual wealth and truth given to us by our Father, and the amount of time we have spent using those resources in His employment, how true does our claim to be His servants still ring?

Food is good, drink is good, owning homes and cars is fine — but if they cost me entrance into God’s Kingdom because I worked harder to have them than I did for God, I would curse the day that I ever enjoyed them.  “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36)  If we find that our focus has drifted towards seeking our own pleasure, and our desire is to relax and enjoy “the good life”, does that awareness cause us any concern?  It should, my brothers and sisters, it should.  If it does, James once again supplies the counsel we ought to follow.  He says, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.  Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Grieve, mourn and wail.  Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”   

Grieving, mourning and wailing isn’t a fun list of things to do, and denying ourselves isn’t easy — it’s contrary to our nature.  But if we want to serve God, it is what’s required of us. If we feel it’s too difficult, bear in mind that we have not resisted sin unto the shedding of our blood.  If we are tempted to walk our own path, because it’s the path of least resistance, we should remember the example of Esau: who despised his birthright because of the responsibilities that came with it, and valued so little the blessings he would have received that he sold it for a single meal.  Because of this the scriptures testify that he was a godless man, and that he could find no place for repentance (Heb. 12:16-17).  

So then, how genuine is our desire to serve God?  How diligently have we sought out His service?   Our lives are a mirror that will always reflect back what we are really living for.  What are we willing to sacrifice to further God’s Kingdom?  It’s easy for men to praise God when all their needs and wants are satisfied; to serve others from a position of overflowing personal abundance, like the rich young man from Matt. 19:16-30, and to feel good for having done so.  But suppose all the blessings were taken away.  Would deprivation diminish your enthusiasm for the Lord’s service, or is our mentality like Job’s, who viewed the loss of all he possessed within the following context: “Shall we accept good from God, and be unwilling to accept adversity?”  Sacrificing the tangible enjoyments of the present life for celestial reward in a future age is a trade too many are unwilling to make.  The choice between living for this life or for the Kingdom of Heaven is presented to each of us, as it was to the rich young man.  Are we willing to forego our own aspirations whenever they fail to align with God’s purpose?  Have we drawn any unconscious lines we are unwilling to cross to serve Him — things we refuse to give up?  Jesus told the disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”  (Luke 10:2)  His statement has not lost any relevance in our present day.  Why are the workers few?  Because few are willing to forego the pursuit of their own interests in order to take up a new life of sacrifice and service to others.

How eager are we to suffer to serve the Lord?   Would we be willing to go through what Ezekiel did?  Take the time to read the fourth chapter of Ezekiel.  He had to lie in the streets for 430 days, and was told Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself.  …Weigh out about [8 ounces] of food to eat each day and eat it at set times.  Eat the food as you would a barley cake; bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement[!] for fuel.”  He replied, “Not so, Sovereign Lord!  I have never defiled myself.  No unclean meat has ever entered my mouth.”  The Lord answers, “Very well, I will let you bake your bread over cow manure instead of human excrement.”  

… Oh!  Well then … Awesome!  Thank you!  Thank you!  … Seriously, who wouldn’t fight to be first in line to be selected for such an opportunity?  Of all the various ways one might while away fifteen months, surely in all the history of man a more pleasant time has never been had, or even imagined!  Now, obviously, I’m having a little fun here, but in reality, it wasn’t a laughing matter.  Such are the lengths God’s servants are called to go to at times — and it is but one example.  

“Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection.  Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison.  They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword.  They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated — the world was not worthy of them.” (Heb. 11:35-38)  

So how are we doing, individually and collectively?  I am here to ask the questions, not to supply the answers.  But I ask because I am convinced that there will be a Day when the Lord himself asks them of all who would seek to be identified by His name.  Far better to reflect upon the matter now, while we still have the opportunity to make any necessary course corrections, than to find that, in the final Judgement, our service was mere self-deception, and that, being weighed in the balances, we have been found wanting.  I can imagine no delusion more dreadful or tragic.