Value of sacrifice

At the great reckoning, many who trusted in ministry will be shocked to see people less gifted or fruitful honoured for their wholehearted devotion to God.

Afflicted and in pain— may your salvation, God, protect me. I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox. (Psalm 69v29-31NIV)

The Lord is more pleased with the prayer and worship of someone in a challenging situation than he is with the size of our sacrifices. We look at the good done through sacrifice. An ox would feed a village. What could a poor person’s sacrifice of a bird be to that?

In today’s terms, we sacrifice ourselves and those close to us for ministry. We ask others to join us in this sacrifice, justified by a need for growth. Yet in this we can forget God who is master of the universe. Let us so focus on Jesus and his love that our ministry flows from it.

The poor will see and be glad—  you who seek God, may your hearts live! The Lord hears the needy and does not despise his captive people. (Psalm 69v32-33NIV)

Those who are too poor either emotionally or in time and money to make heroic sacrifices can rejoice that God values our prayers. They are not despised second class citizens to God.

We see this in Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard. The owner pays for willingness to work rather than hours worked.

Best way to reach the world for Jesus?

What is the best way to reach our fallen world? Some advocate a clear understandable presentation of the Gospel, Others say people need to see miracles, signs and wonders. Paul did not go with either but preached Christ crucified.

 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. (1 Corinthians 1:22-23NIV)

Christ crucified is a stumbling block to those wanting miraculous intervention for it shows Jesus in weakness, the very condition God is supposed to find abhorrent.

Christ crucified is foolishness to those who want to show the wisdom of the Gospel. Who would choose to follow Jesus along a road that leads to the Cross?

but to those whom God has called … Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1Corinthians 1:24NIV)

Both our presentation of the Gospel and the miracles God performs through us bring the focus to us. The original question, ‘What is the best way …?’ implicitly focuses attention on the messenger and the skills they choose instead of Jesus.

Paul lifts up Jesus, however that makes him look – whether foolishness or a stumbling block. This begs the question, Am I willing to entrust the Gospel of Jesus to Jesus himself? Am I willing to trust him for his wisdom and follow him wherever he might lead in presenting it?

Asking out of need

When I am in need and I see people having the resources then I am tempted to speak in a way that will ‘help them’ answer my need. Some of this is right, the Lord often brings together those with need and those with resources, but what of the attitude –

Neighbors lie to each other, speaking with flattering lips and deceitful hearts. May the Lord cut off their flattering lips and silence their boastful tongues. They say, “We will lie to our hearts’ content. Our lips are our own—who can stop us?” (Psalm 12:2-4 NLT)

Whenever there is a need there is a temptation to deceit. If I puff up my proposal, those who hear may be more inclined to give. If I can tempt them to think more of themselves than they ought to, then maybe they will commit more to my need.

This attitude forgets God’s sovereignty. The Lord wants us to do our best in presenting our message. To flatter is a step too far. Flattering lips betray a deceitful heart, a heart that despises God. We forget that the Lord may have other purposes for the resource. if our deceit captures it, then other, weaker children of God can be left suffering.

The challenge is that flattering tongues sound plausible. Advocates of this approach master the silver tongue, that is why they become advocates and our joining in justifies their stance. Our protection is to walk in step with God, reflecting on what is said with a quiet heart.

Preparation for spiritual warfare

Our culture seems to sap spiritual life from us, we slumber in entertainment, we are ensnared through poor choices. We long for the Lord to bring victory in our day, but when Jesus rides out for victory who will be ready to join him?

The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.”-(Psalm 110v1)

In heaven the Father and Son await the right moment to overcome their enemies.

Meanwhile, on earth we call out, “How long O Lord till you deal with this secular society opposed to you?”

The Lord will extend your powerful kingdom from Jerusalem; you will rule over your enemies. (v2)

We are currently in retreat with the church haemorrhaging people, especially youth, and gaining few converts, yet ultimately we have this hope, the Lord will extend his powerful kingdom through his people.

When you go to war, your people will serve you willingly. You are arrayed in holy garments, and your strength will be renewed each day like the morning dew. (v3)

In the mean time, the Son sits at the side of his Father while his people are being prepared for the eventual battle of victory. That preparation work is very different from what we imagine. The questions to be answered at that time will be –

  • Who have shown themselves to be willing troopers?
  • Who joins the Son in holy garments?
  • Who is daily renewed in strength?

Spiritual Ruins

Many say, “Where is your God?” Many of God’s people are so distracted by the world’s pleasures that their spiritual lifeblood is being poured out. So, we pray –

Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake! Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants be known among the nations before our eyes! Let the groans of the prisoners come before you… (Psalm 79:9-11 NLT)

Throughout the Bible the Lord tends to work through weakness rather than strength. It was after years of slavery in Egypt that the Lord heard the cries of his people. It was at the low point of the time of Judges that the Lord introduced Samuel and David. Are we able to become real, recognise our place of disgrace in our society and call out to God?

How long, O Lord? Will you be angry for ever? … Do not remember against us our former iniquities; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low. (Psalm 79:5-8 NLT)

The writer appeals to God for compassion. Often we appeal on the basis of the spread of the gospel.  We appeal out of insecurity instead of God’s mercy. Insecurity puffs itself up saying, “We are up to the task!” It looks to future glory for motivation. Humility recognises its weakness and looks to God to work both in us and in the world.

Righteousness seen through us

When we see the spectacular in Jesus’ ministry we desire to be participants in it, often without appreciating the implications of participation.

  You will be a light to guide the nations. You will open the eyes of the blind. You will free the captives from prison, releasing those who sit in dark dungeons. (Isaiah 42:6c-7)

We see the needs of those who spiritually, physically or emotionally are in darkness or prisons and desire that the Lord use us to release them. The Father, for reasons unknown, works through give and take not just take.

and I will give you to my people, Israel, as a symbol of my covenant with them. (Isaiah 42:6b)

This ‘symbol’ is Jesus on the cross! Participants in ministry also participate in cost. I post this while pressed with the death of my father on top of issues that crowd out life.

“I, the Lord, have called you to demonstrate my righteousness. I will take you by the hand and guard you,”

Though we participate in Christ’s sufferings, the overriding way God works is through blessing and a guarding hand. His consolations outweigh the cost.

God, the Lord, created the heavens and stretched them out. He created the earth and everything in it. He gives breath to everyone, life to everyone who walks the earth. (Isaiah 42:5)

The one who created us gave us the breath of life. We have this life from him as a trust and how he wishes to demonstrate his righteousness through us is his call.

 

My Bible study for Isaiah 42 is found here.

Refreshment

I can find the urgency of a task so great that I struggle to stop.  I can be driven by the expectations of others, or even myself. This is not the pattern of our Lord. He stops for refreshment mid battle.

But he himself will be refreshed from brooks along the way. (Psalm 110:7 NLT)

The one who receives power from on high needs refreshment! This begs the question: Am I willing to stop at the Lord’s brook to be refreshed?

This admission of need seems incongruous with the beginning of the Psalm –

The Lord will extend your powerful kingdom from Jerusalem (Psalm 110:2 NLT)

The Father exercises power to extend His Kingdom. In modern parlance we see signs and wonders. Why would the God of power leave his servants in need of refreshment? Surely war has no let up, it requires concentrated effort. Why would the Lord break off from the urgent need?

When you go to war, your people will serve you willingly. (Psalm 110:3 NLT)

We live at a time when few serve willingly.  Ministry leaders all over the western Church feel obliged to drive their people to action. Yet maybe it is in this stopping at the brooks along the way for refreshment that our people can endure the challenges of an age that sucks the life out of everyone.

Am I willing to acknowledge that stopping to be refreshed by the Lord is equally urgent as the ministry he has set before me?

Looking for God to restore

We complain about the demise of the Church and ask God why He is not advancing the gospel. We do not realise that He is! He is returning us to reality! We live in a time of disgrace for the church of God. The cry of many is –

Restore us again, God our Savior, and put away your displeasure toward us.
Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger through all generations?
Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your unfailing love, Lord, and grant us your salvation. (Psalm 85:4-7NIV)

In times past, the hope of the church seemed to be the Evangelical Movement bringing Christ. At the time we were criticized for a shallow approach: “All you need is to receive Jesus, and God will do the rest.” What we failed to appreciate was the context of a culture striving but failing to live for God. In this context the simple message was good news.

Now our culture has little interest in seeking God. The old message is exposed as simplistic. Many have taken it literally and with their ticket to heaven secured they abandon God and give themselves to sensuality.

The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest.
Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps. (Psalm 85:12-13)

Are we ready for the Lord to do new things, preparing the way with His righteousness, bringing fruit as He understands fruitfulness?

Overflowing grace

We desire to see the Lord’s fame go to the world, to see God yield His harvest.

Then the land will yield its harvest, and God, our God, will bless us. God will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear him. (Psalm67:6-7)

This skips to the end of a process. It begins with –

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, (Psalm67;1)

Great! I want that too! When however, He chooses to answer at a time of His choosing, will I be ready to respond? When He wakes me at 3:00am am I willing to get out of bed and receive that blessing?

that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.  (Psalm67:2)

I might think of this blessing as a purely personal thing between God and myself. Yet it is precisely such personal blessings that go out to bless His world.

People see and hear how the Lord has worked His ways in us. This demonstrates something living and practical. They are inspired to seek God too. People hear of how the Lord rescued us from challenging situations and they are emboldened to ask Him for their own.

He uses a ripple effect, throwing a pebble into the pond so the waves go out. The wave is with us for a short time, we forget and move on. The Lord however makes the fruit of that personal encounter persist into the lives of others, and beyond to people around them.

See more detail in Biblebase2adaringfaith.

What do we value?

Our culture has only one question to determine value – “Does it work?” Jesus takes a different view. After feeding the 5000 He leaves.  Most would have continued the ministry. When the people find Him, He challenges their motives –

  ‘… you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.  (John 6:26)

What is the difference between eating bread that came as a miracle and seeing signs? The difference is in the focus. If I look for Jesus because I ate, then I am looking for myself and the focus is on me. If I look because I saw miraculous signs my focus is on Christ and I am looking to worship Him.

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.’ (John 6:27)

This focus is seen in our relationship with God. If the focus of my spirituality is on what works, then it is subject to men’s evaluation which inevitably is temporary and ultimately spoils. The fruit Jesus is looking for is the fruit of lives changed by faith. Faith is proven through trust even when things don’t seem to be working –

‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’ (John 6:29)

Are we able to trust Jesus in how He directs rather than try to use Him to get what we want? This is food that endures to eternal life.

 

A fuller study