I don’t like New Year’s Resolutions. Probably because I can never keep them.
As of yesterday (the 1st of January), things will look a little different all over the country. Gym members will see a surge of new faces using the equipment next to them. Kitchen cupboards will wonder where all of the chocolate and biscuits have went. Sales of bikes and running shoes may see a noticable spike. Headaches will soar as thousands try to wean themselves off of caffine. Alcohol cupboards will sit empty and waiting.
All over the country people will have made decisions, promises and declarations that “this year I’m going to change!” Some may even mean it. Some may even keep their promises. Others may have already broken theirs.
Reviewing our habits and daily decisions is a good thing. I’m not against that. But the problem starts when we start to attach our goals and desires to our identity. According to my very scientific study of social media, February/March is when most people fail or give up on their resolutions. And according to social media, when people begin to fail at their resolutions, there is a very real temptation for self-condemnation to set in.
I mean, how many of you have ever said or heard something like the following:
“I stopped exercising, and now I’ve gained weight again. I’m never going to change.”
“I couldn’t stay away from *insert your addiction here* for more than 4 weeks. I’m useless.”
“Dry January hardly lasted a week. I’m such an idiot.”
“My Bible reading didn’t last very long. I give up.”
And so on.
Some people get so worked up about the (often unrealistic) goals they set themselves that when they fail, instead of giving themselves the grace and slack they need, they go straight to self-condemnation.
And that’s why I don’t like resolutions. People end up tying their identities to something that they were never supposed to tie their identity to in the first place.
You are not defined by how much you weigh. You are not defined by how much self control you have. Contrary to popular belief, you are not what you eat.
If you’re a Christian, how good you are at keeping your Bible reading or prayer life isn’t how God decides how much he loves you. Or as Matt Smethurst recently Tweeted: Spiritual Disciplines are there to make God more precious to you, not to make you more precious to God.
If you miss a day, or a week, or a month, or a year, he doesn’t love you any less. It’s probably not good for you, but it doesn’t mean he thinks any less of you. That was settled when Jesus took his final breath at calvary.
According to the Bible, there’s only one change that really matters in the long run: how much we’ve surrendered to God.
If you really want to change this year, the only advice I can give you is to push into God more. Do what he wants instead of what you want. If that sounds hard, do it a little and you’ll soon find that what God wants becomes what you want. Instead of focusing so much energy on the temporal, spend a little extra time focusing on the eternal.
Exercising can change you physically and mentally, but it can’t make you a new version of you. You can give up sweets, chocolate and all of the other crap you put into your body, but it won’t change your heart (though it might make your physical heart a little healthier…). According to the Bible, true change only happens by coming to Christ. (John 3:3, 2 Cor 2:17).
The great paradox of the Christian life is that we don’t become who we’re supposed to be by taking control – we do that by surrendering daily to the will and word of God.
Look after yourself and make good choices, by all means – a healthier you will probably last longer and have more energy to do what the Lord has called you to do – but don’t let what’s supposed to be secondary become primary. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, so it’s not something we grow in ourselves – it’s something we grow in only when we surrender and push further into the arms of God.
So go ahead and make your resolutions. Make good decisions and get rid of all of the stuff that’s not good for you – but don’t expect external choices to bring internal change. Certainly don’t base your identity on those things, and don’t get worked up if (or when) you inevitably fall short of your own standards. After all, if God doesn’t condemn you for breaking them, why should you?
During the COVID19 pandemic I’ve had several similar conversations with folks in my congregation. From experienced, mature leaders to new Christians, at some point most people have commented the same thing: “I’m finding it hard to engage with God just now.“
For some people, this means their Bible reading has taken a hit. During the months of lockdown, the desire to open their Bible and engage with God has been non-existant. For others, this means their prayer lives have been affected. With no desire (or realisation of the need) for prayer, people have found their connection with God to be lacking. For others, the desire to attend church has gone, their Sunday routines having taken a knock after 18+ months of lockdown. In many conversations, the term “spiritual apathy” has come up, and I think it’s a fitting term.
I’m betting for many of you the above conversation sounds familar. Having reflected on this (and having gone through it myself), I’ve put together 5 reasons why I believe this happens, and how I think we can begin to break out of this.
1. Lack of Gathered Worship
One encouragement I’ve found myself giving to people over this past year and a half is this: if you’ve found yourself struggling Spiritually since not being able to meet together, be encouraged. I’d be more worried if the sudden lack of meeting together didn’t cause any change in our spiritual or thought lives!
The church is the people of God. The local church is when the gathered people of God come together to worship. At services we come to encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24-25, 1 Thess 5:11), to sing over one another (Ephesians 5:19), to sit under the proclaimed word of God together (Colossians 3:16, Acts 2:42), to take communion together (1 Cor 10:16), to pray for one another (James 5:16, Ephesians 6:18, 1 Tim 2:1), challenge one another (James 5:16), and to enjoy being with one another (1 Thess 5:11, 1 John 1:3). All of these things are hugely important for a healthy spiritual walk with Jesus.
Many of us have lacked these things over the past year and a half: it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that many of us would find ourselves struggling as a result! “Going to church” isn’t just something we do to tick off another box on the “Good Christian” card – going to church is an act of worship, a decision we make to come be with the gathered people of God and remind ourselves of his goodness, grace and mercy.
In Acts we read that the early believers were devoted to gathering together, fellowship, breaking bread and prayer.
In Hebrews, we are encouraged not to give up meeting together – which hits a lot harder when you realise that document was originally written for Christians who were being persecuted for doing so.
Gathering together is Biblical. As good and helpful as “Online Church” has been, it simply can’t replace being together and worshipping God in person. Don’t get me wrong – online streaming has it’s place. Our church started an online service the year before COVID hit, with the intention of reaching those who couldn’t make it to a physical gathering for whatever reason. We reached people in countries where there was no legal gathered church, and we were able to connect to local people who weren’t able to leave the house due to physical or mental health reasons. We created pastoral teams who were able to visit some of those who had been connecting online, and it was a blessing. Our church will continue to offer online services to those who cannot make it, but they will in no way replace the physical gathering of the church.
Get to church. I know you’ve been out of habit. I have been too. I know how easy it is to sit on your sofa in your pants, turn on YouTube and watch church like you would any other Netflix show. I know how convinient it is to watch church whenever you want. I know how less stressful it is trying to get the kids out of the door in the morning. But trust me; for your own good, for your own spiritual growth and health; get yourself to church. If you have to fight to get into the habit again, make it happen. If it means the kids will grumble for a few weeks, let them grumble.
Your church may not have the kids programme ready again. The music may be different to before. Wearing masks may be difficult and weird (if that’s still a thing where you are) – but who cares. Get yourself to church. Get yourself into the habit of worshipping with other believers. If things like masks, distancing or following guidelines stops you because you think it isn’t right, then just do what Jesus says; die to self, get yourself humbled and go along. Don’t wait until this restriction or that restriction is lifted – just get yourself there (unless you have to isolate for health reasons). If you don’t want to go to worship God with your brothers of sisters because some aspect of the service isn’t to your taste, you’ve made an idol of the service. Die to your own desires, die to convinence, repent, and get yourself there. You’ll thank me later.
2. You’ve become (dis)content with stuff
I have a love/hate relationship with my phone. I love that I have almost all of the collective knowledge of human history packed into a tiny black rectangle that fits in my pocket. I love how convenient it makes things. I love how much easier it is to communicate with people than it was 10 years ago. But I hate how much I think I need it. I hate how much time I find myself spending on it. I hate how distracting it can be, and I hate that picking it up and checking it has become a habit.
I can watch almost any TV show I want at any time, anywhere in my house. Gone are the days when you’d have to wait until your favourite TV show was on in order to watch it. Gone are the days when you had to wait until 9pm for a film to come on, or when you had to go through the bother (lol) of putting a VHS/DVD into a machine to watch something. Gone are the days when you had one TV and you had to watch whatever the boss of the house was watching (or if you were “rich”, you had Sky in different rooms).
Instead, if I want to watch a film in my bedroom, I can pull it up on my laptop, or put it on my phone. No matter where I am, any time of the day. If I’m sitting on the toilet, it takes me all of 4 seconds to pull up my favourite episode of The Office on my phone, turning a 2 minute task into a 15 minute one – much to the annoyance of everyone else in my house.
There are downsides to this too. Our phones are almost too convinient. If I take my Bible out to my garden bench with the intention of reading it, but my phone is in my pocket, 9/10 I’ll end up sitting staring at my phone while my Bible remains closed. 15 minutes could go by, and before I know it the only little time I had to myself is gone, and I’ve wasted it. If I’m going to read my Bible, I’ve had to learn to put my phone (and my kindle, and anything else that could distract me) away into another room. I don’t have the self control to choose myself, so I have to figuratively cut my hand off to remove the temptation.
The Bible somtimes describes being in God’s presence like being at a banquet; being in the presence of the Lord is like being at a table surrounded by the finest wines, meats, breads and fruits you could find anywhere. When we susbtitute God for stuff, it’s like replacing all of that good food with a bag of Haribo. Sure, they might taste nice and make us feel good for a short while, but if that’s all you eat you’re going to end up with diarrhoea. Haribo is good occasionally, but you can’t live off of it. The same is true of our distractions. They’re good things, that can often turn bad if we don’t learn to control them.
The solution: Set limits. If your phone distracts you, don’t take it to bed with you. If you’re easily distracted, get yourself a paper Bible and read that with your phone in another room. If you need to downsize to a dumb phone (something I’ve thought about often, but haven’t had the courage to do yet) go for it.
If you’re always on Netflix, get a friend or family member to set up restrictions with Parental Control. Limit your time, and don’t let them tell you the password to change it, no matter how much you beg/ask/threaten them!
3. You’ve reduced “God” to feelings or emotions
Disclaimer: I am a card-carrying charismatic. I’m a firm believer in the (correct) use of Spiritual Gifts within the church. I fully believe in the laying on of hands and in being filled afresh with the power of the Holy Spirit.
I love an octave jump in my worship music, an uplifting chorus and a good, catchy repeating bridge. As a worship leader, there is no finer sight for me than seeing a congregation on their knees or with their hands raised and eyes squeezed shut in euphoric praise.
While those things are good..like everything else good in this world, we can misuse them, and ultimately make idols of them. And a very big reason I think people don’t “feel” God any more is because we’ve reduced “God” to something we feel. The buzz we get when the beat drops, when the drummer drops out and comes back in perfectly, the emotions we feel as our favourite song is belted out, or when the worship leader or pastor stirs us up, or when the person praying for us talks particularly loudly and uses all of the right buzzwords.
Though I’m currently falling more and more out of love with modern worship trends, I’ve been involved in enough worship bands and events to notice that there is a very real temptation for us to want to create an experience more than anything else.
God does not suddenly arrive when the beat drops. The Holy Spirit is not waiting behind the stage for the chorus to welcome him in. The presence of God is not dictated by the talent of the worship leader or the atmosphere in the room. Prayers are not answered based on how loudly and passionately we can ask them. And the danger for modern evangelicals, especially in charismatic circles, is that we equate experiences or feelings of “God’s presence” with these things.
Our Senior Pastor and my mentor, Peter Anderson once commented that he’s able to worship God in any musical setting, and I think that’s a hugely important point.
If you’re used to upbeat worship music and you can’t “connect” with God during a traditional service with hymns and an organ, it was never God you were connecting with in the first place. In the same way, if you’re used to more subdued music/singing in church and you find yourself unable to worship The Lord with a live band and fancy lights, you’ve put God in a box.
If your opinion on whether or not a sermon was “good” (which, as any preacher will tell you, is a horrible word for describing any message in the first place) is based on how many times the preacher got you fired up enough to shout “amen” loudly, you may have bought into hype more than you have the Word.
It doesn’t matter whether or not you “feel” God in a place of worship – if you are a believer, sealed with the Holy Spirit and standing in the presence of other saints, the Lord is there. He is closer than you can comprehend. Don’t make the mistake of confusing the endorphins exploding through your head wtih the tangible presence of the Lord.
Now, having said all that that’s not to say we may not physically feel things in services. Some people are so afraid of the above that they push too far in the other direction. There are times to weep. There are times to be joyful and cheer and celebrate. There are times when I have been prayed for and physically felt like lightening was shooting through my body. There have been times in private prayer when I have felt a buzz so far and beyond any (legal and illegal) high I’ve ever had. God can’t be put in a box, but he also can’t be shoehorned into fuzzy feelings.
The Solution: I don’t really know, to be honest. For this to change we need to see a cultural shift and an open, ongoing conversation in our churches about what our gatherings are really about. We need to get rid of the cancerous “hype” culture that can so easily invade our services.
Perhaps for a season we can adopt a “less is more” approach – many churches are having to worship differently after the COVID-19 pandemic, and maybe this is a season where we can relearn how to worship in a different setting to what we’re used to.
Perhaps even just acknowleding that we do this is a good step in remedying it…in which case, there you go! You’re welcome.
4. You’ve Lost Sense of the Holiness and Greatness of God
Coffee mugs can be a lucrative business for Christian organisations. It’s not uncommon for me to visit someone and to see a cup decorated with an encouraging verse like John 3:16, Jeremiah 29:11 (😬), Psalm 23:1, etc on them. These are nice, comfy, cosy coffee-cup verses that give us as much warmth as the tea we drink from them.
There are some verses I don’t think I’ve ever seen on a coffee mug though. For example, take a look at this passage from Nahum:
The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. 3 The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. 4 He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; he dries up all the rivers;
Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him. 7 The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. 8 But with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries and will pursue his enemies into darkness
Nahum 1:2-8 (ESV)
How many of those verses have you seen on coffee cups? Not many I’m guessing! But it’s not as if those verses are any less true than the warm fuzzy ones. The truth is that we sometimes struggle with talking about God like this – even though the Bible doesn’t hold back. I think deep down that’s one of the reasons for our Spiritual Apathy.
One of the seasons when I’ve been most in love, fired up and passionate about the Lord was atfer reading J.I.Packer’s well known book “Knowing God”. Packer described the majesty, power, wrath, love and jealousy of God so powerfully and simply, it blew me away at the time. It was so incredibly liberating having truths about God presented in such a way. It reminded me that:
God is God. I am not.
God is in control. I am not.
God is Holy. Without him, I am not.
God knows best. I do not.
God’s morals are absolute and good. Mines are not.
God is big. I am small.
God is God. I am not.
It hit hard because there is a very real temptation in our conversations about God today for us to present him simply as our buddy. Our pal, who exists simply to empower us and make our worldly lives better. With our pal God beside us, there is no challenge we can’t face! If our problems are Goliath, with God we become David!
Honestly? That’s utter tosh.
Here’s the thing: you aren’t David. And if you’re going to make the mistake of imposing yourself into that story at all, you need to know that who you actually are is one the Israelites cowering in the back, unable to conquer Goliath yourself. Jesus is David. You aren’t.
[He may cringe about it today, but Matt Chandler’s sermon “God is for God [link]” still one of the best of recent years. Go listen to it. I’ve included the extended version as the hype Furtick stirs up (rightly or wrongly – I’ll let you decide) before it is a good example of what I sahred above. It also juxtaposes perfectly with Chandler’s sermon!]
Jesus may be our kind, Gentle and Lowly saviour, but the book of Revelation also paints him as the vengeful redeemer, coming to earth with a sword in his mouth (his word) to proclaim judgement on sin, sinners and to tread on the “winepress of his wrath”, with the wine swirling around his feet representing the blood of his enemies (put that on a coffee cup and see how well it sells…). He is the meek Lamb of God, absolutely – but he’s also the Lion of Judah, and Lions have teeth. Or as C.S.Lewis puts it:
Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.
C.S.Lewis, “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe”
When we forget how big, mighty and sometimes scary God can be (remember in Exodus whenever God appears his people are terrified by his presence?) it can lead us to be apathetic or even uncaring about whether or not we take him seriously.
Remind yourself of the vastness of God.
If you’re wondering how to do that, let me suggest a couple of things. Number 1: ongoing confession. It’s not something we often talk about today, but ongoing confession of sins is a discipline the Bible commands us to do. I’m not talking about sharing your sins with an annoymous priest in a box (although talking through your struggles with a Pastor or trusted friend will certainly help), but confessing our sins to God.
1 John 1 says:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
1 John 1:8-10 (ESV)
Confessing our sins and repenting isn’t something we do once then never do again, nor is it something we do to please God. We’re forgiven and saved upon confessing our faith in Jesus, absolutely. In Christ, we’re forever put on God’s good books. No, ongoing confession and repentence is something we do for our own sake. Or as Tim Keller puts it, repentence is a gift. It reminds us of the gospel, of our need for Christ, and is like having a reset button whenever we stumble and mess up. Ongoing confession and repentence is one of the vehicles God uses to make us more like Jesus every day. 
Why do I suggest that? Because it humbles us. It reminds me of who God is, and who we aren’t.
Secondly, it reminds us of our need for Christ. When I pray and confess, I am reminded of how powerful, mighty and forgiving God is, and how powerless and weak I am.
God’s grace is sufficient and amazing, and the reason for that is because of why we need his grace in the first place. Don’t despair though, because:
5. You May Have Forgotten How Much this Holy and Mighty God Loves you
God’s wrath and his love go hand in hand. We can’t talk about his wrath without his love, and talking about his love doesn’t hit as hard if we don’t first talk about his wrath.
What am I saying? The God of all creation, who describes himself as holy, jealous, wrathful, vengeful, who hates sin, who is above everyone and everything loves you.
How do I know this? Because the terrifying wrath of God was thrown upon his Son in our place. Jesus willingly went to the cross (John 10:11, 17-18). Jesus went to the cross, knowing the joy he would eventually experience in seeing helpless sinners like you and me come to sit at God’s banquet table, as part of his family, warmly and lovingly invited in.
Jesus the Lion is also Jesus the Lamb, and he is gentle and forgiving towards those who would call upon him. You may have your flaws, and you may still struggle with indwelling sin, but in and through Jesus, those are washed away as nothing by the flood of God’s love and mercy.
You may feel Spiritual Apathy because you somehow have it in your head that God is done with you, he’s sick of you failing and failing again, or he’s mad at you because you’ve ignored him the past 18 months. Don’t give those thoughts any space in your head. God’s love for you is not dependant on anything you do or don’t do – it’s based entierly upon what he’s already done. It’s based on the love and obedience of his Son, who loved you enough to die for you in the first place.
Remind yourself of the Gospel every day. Print out some tracts or some of the promises of God that you can pin onto your wall and remind yourself of them. And again; get to church. If you’re at a good church, hopefully you’ll be remined of the above truths every time you go. And when you’re surrounded by other men and women in the same position as you, singing over each other and reminding each other of the goodness and faithfulness of the God who made you, it acts like a cleansing flood, washing away all of the doubts and niggles you have – at least for a little while – which is why we go back every week!
Prayer, Bible reading, being excited about the church – these things aren’t for God’s benefit – they’re for you. My encouragement to you today is that if you find yourself in a season of Spiritual Apathy, the Lord doesn’t love you any less because of it. He is able to sustain you, uphold you and fully restore to you the joy you once had. Acknowledge these things, confess these things, push into him, and let him do the work.
Incidentally, and this is totally anecdotal, but from my conversations with pastors from different circles, it seems those who have stopped or limited their online usage are seeing a much higher percentage of their church return to physical services than those who continue to offer a strong online presence. Something to ponder on. ↩
Some like to argue that the above verse doesn’t apply to Christians and that it’s written to non-Christians, but the tense used in the language and the context of the rest of 1 John renders that argument null. ↩
[This is the final part in a 3 part series on what the Bible says about wasting our lives. Part 1 is HERE, Part 2 is HERE. This is the most important part, and if you’re only going to read one, I’d ask that you read this one.]
Like many parents, I’ve found lockdown hard. Now don’t get me wrong: I have thoroughly enjoyed the extra time spent with my family over the past year and a half. Some of the walks we went on in the first lockdown stand out as some of our most treasured memories together to date. But if I’m being honest there have been times where they’ve driven me daft.
There have been times in the past 18 months where I’ve tried in vain to escape to the garden just to get time alone. There have been times when I just couldn’t bring myself to play with the kids any more, and have instead sat on my phone. There have been days when I’ve been happy to let them sit in front of a screen, because they’d already exhausted my mental energy for the day.
A few weeks ago my daughter went back to school, leaving my wife and I at home with our son. Since my wife has been working full time, I’ve been charged with looking after him. It’s been great, but again, there have been times when I’ve just been too exhausted, and have been happy to let him sit in front of the tele while I get stuff done (or sit in front of a screen of my own…).
Next week he starts school-nursery. He has a wee uniform and everything, it’s amazing. But, like his sister, it means that as of next week, for 5 days a week he will be away from home 6 hours a day. I’ve realised that I might not get this much time with him ever again.
Now, no parent has dealt with the past season perfectly, and we absolutely have to cut ourselves some slack. However, I’m 99% certain that when next week comes and I cuddle him goodbye at the school gate, the thing I’ll tell myself over and over again will be: “I wish I’d spent more time with him.”
For many of us our regrets aren’t about what we spend our time doing, but who we spend our time with. It’s with that thought in mind that we now turn to the final part in our series.
A Life Lived With God
There’s a passage in the Bible where Jesus is invited to the home of a woman called Martha.
In the passage we are told that one of the ladies, Mary, spends her time at the feet of her Lord, listening to his teaching, enjoying his presence and being thankful for the fact that he was there. Martha, on the other hand, “was distracted with much serving”.
While Mary is enjoying time with her Lord, Martha, is fussing around, making sure that all of the guests are looked after. Having known more than a few Marthas in my time, I can imagine what some of what her fussing was about. “John doesn’t have a cup! There’s no bread left on Jesus’s side of the table! I forgot to sweep the back room! Who forgot to clean the good bowls? There isn’t enough bread for everyone!” (Ok, assuming she knew who was sitting at her table she would have known not to worry about that one).
Most first time readers to this passage sympathise with Martha. Why is it fair that she does all of the work while her sister sits on the floor listening to the guest speaker? Why is it fair that when Martha seems stressed, her sister Mary seems utterly unphased about all that needs done? (I’ve a feeling I’m also describing a fair few marriages while typing this – am I right? Husbands take note!)
When Martha voices her concern to Jesus, as is often the case, our Lord’s answer comes as a surprise.
“But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10:41-42 (ESV)
Jesus gently reminds Martha that all of the fussing about doing stuff is secondary to actually being with and enjoying him.
For all I’ve said in the previous post about work, which is important, work and doing is by no means the way in which a life isn’t wasted. Work isn’t the be all and end all. How many stories have we heard of people on their deathbeds regretting how much of their life they spent focused on their careers and work, instead of living and enjoying the good things and people God had blessed them with?
Even Jesus knew this – for all of his hard work, Jesus often started his day before the sun came up in communion and prayer with his Father. If the Son of God spent so much time in prayer (not because he had to, but because he wanted to) how much more do we need it?
For the Christian, work is important, but it is always secondary. For a start, we aren’t accepted by God on the basis of what we do. We are accepted by God through believing in Jesus. It is faith in his Son which pleases God first and foremost – not doing stuff. In fact, the Bible at one point describes good deeds without faith or love for God as “filthy rags”. Doing stuff doesn’t get you closer to God. Knowing his Son does.
God made us to work – absolutely. But he doesn’t just want us to do stuff. He wants our hearts. It’s from a heart overflowing with thankfulness and love for God that the best and most effective work comes. Yet sadly, far too many Christians today, especially in evangelical circles, seem to spend more of their time serving in church, working, fussing and doing stuff for Jesus rather than enjoying time at his feet.
Whether it’s the Small Group leader who spends more time preparing (and maybe fretting over) their group than they do sitting with their Bible open for their own enjoyment, or the church attender who thinks welcoming people on the door at church is a substitute for enjoying time with their heavenly Father in prayer, or even the Pastor who only opens his Bible to study, preach and teach, and never for his own enjoyment, far too many people find it easier to do stuff for Jesus than actually enjoy Jesus himself.
In a sermon I believe should be required listening for every single pastor and ministry leader, Pastor David Platt openly acknowledges that at the time when he was most “busy” and “successful” in ministry, his life was completely without prayer. His book had just become a number one best-seller, his preaching ministry had exploded and his church was experiencing rapid growth – but Platt admits that in that season he was compeltely dry, and it took a shock of a wake up call for him to realise that he was doing all of this without enjoying the close, intimacy of his Father.
Platt acknowledges that he’d become content with the culture’s version of what “success” was, and had ignored what the Bible actually said about it, and that contentment was leading him towards disaster.
My point is this: if you’re currently more concerned about stuff than you are loving and enjoying God, drop some of the stuff and take time to sit at the Saviour’s feet. You can waste your time doing stuff; you can’t waste your time knowing Christ.
If you aren’t convinced, let me take you to Matthew 7. As always, Jesus has some striking and challenging words for us here:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast our demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)
Notice something? Jesus doesn’t reject them because they didn’t work hard enough. He doesn’t reject them because they didn’t see enough signs and wonders. He rejects them because he didn’t know them. Christian life today isn’t defined by how much we do. Christian life today isn’t defined by how powerful the signs and wonders we see are. It isn’t even defined by how much we know – it’s based on who we know. At the end of the day, a successful Christian life is defined by whether or not we know Christ. 
As I type this the finals of the women’s gymnastics are on the TV beside me. Here some of the world’s most amazing, gifted and disciplined athletes are using all of their life’s training and experience to hopefully bring home a medal. Whether Gold, Silver, or Bronze, whatever they win will be well deserved. The men and women who spend their lives training and competing for these games deserve all of the praise and rewards they get. Are their lives wasted? Many would say certainly not. I’d be inclined to agree. You’ve spent your life training for something and now are enjoying the fruits of your labour? Well done – enjoy the common grace of God!
The Bible, however, would ask a different question: can you take your medals with you when you die? The answer, obviously, is no.
The Bible is honest about death, as should Christians be; everyone dies. There is no avoiding it. Science can keep your body alive longer and longer, but there is no escaping that there will come a day when everyone alive on the Earth just now will be gone, replaced by another generation who too, will eventually die. Morbid, eh? If you think I’m being fatalistic and not Biblical, just read some of the Psalms. Or Proverbs. Or Ecclesiates. Or the Gospels. Or Paul’s letters. I’ll wait.
The most important question about how we live our lives doesn’t necessarily concern this life (though that is important) – it concerns the life to come. Olympic medals, your pension fund, your company being on the Fortune 500 List, dozens of grandkids, 10 plantinum certified albums, a photo of you blue in the face on top of Everest – all of these are good things, but none of them will matter to you 150 years from now. What will matter is the simple question Jesus asked above: Do you know him?
If you know Jesus, you can be assured that not one part of your life is wasted. Whether it’s the missionary who’s given up a life of comfort and ease for the sake of the gospel, the person who denies all of their strongest personal desires for the sake of Jesus, or the one who laments that he hasn’t made a “difference” in the world; if you can say with confidence “I know Christ” you can know today with confidence that your life is in no way wasted; it’s treasured.
Let me finish by pointing you to a well known character from the Bible: the Thief on the Cross. As he hung there helpless, what do you think was going through his head? Maybe he began to regret stealing whatever he’d stolen. Maybe he began to lament how he’d wasted his life in crime. Maybe he’d lived a good life, but one act of desperation had led him towards the jaws of death. Maybe hanging there in agony he began to think to himself “this is my only life, and I’ve blown it.”
But then he looks to his left, and here is a man who he recognises. Jesus of Nazareth – the miracle worker, who has healed, delivered and forgiven multitudes of people not unlike himself. A man who has spent his whole life loving sinners just like the Thief. A wholly innocent man who somehow finds himself suffering the same criminal’s fate that he is. Maybe I deserve to be up here, the Thief thinks, but surely not this man.
The Thief has nothing to offer. There’s nothing he can do for Jesus – not now. There is nothing he can say to him to try and win him over. With death rushing to meet his seemingly wasted life, he cries out to Jesus in desperation. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And how does the King of the Universe respond?
“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Let me say to you with confidence: later that day, when death had passed over him, as that Thief stood at the gates of paradise with his Lord beside him, he would have known that his life hadn’t been wasted. Today, 2000 years later, I bet he’s still glad for that encounter. And 520 Billion years from now, still enjoying the presence of the God who made and loved him (though maybe slightly frustrated at the millions of people like me who’ll no doubt be queuing up to ask him questions), his “wasted” life will hardly be a memory.
If all that Thief had done in his life simply served to introduce him to Jesus in his final moments, he needn’t have worried about wasting a second.
Agree? Disagree? Maybe you’ve found these posts helpful? Either way, please feel free to leave a comment and to share this on social media. I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can also use the side bar over there (>>) to suscribe and be kept up to date with the latest posts!
I’m aware that text also notes that it is the one who does the Father’s who will enter the Kingdom. What is the Father’s will? That we know his Son. (1 John 5) ⏎
Warning: Breaking Bad spoilers below! (You’ve been warned).
The TV programme “Breaking Bad” is one of the most successful and critically acclaimed shows of recent years. In it we’re introduced to Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who finds himself stricken with (what is believed to be) terminal lung cancer. With no savings and no legacy to leave behind for his family, Walt uses his knowledge of chemistry to make money by…”cooking” Crystal Meth, a dangerous and highly addictive Class-A drug.
Being such a gifted chemist, Walt’s product ends up being very, very popular with addicts and criminals alike. In fact, it’s so good that drug lords from all over the world begin fighting over it, Walt included. The series captures Walt’s rise from high-school teacher to feared drug baron. As he gets sucked deeper and deeper into a life of crime, Walt’s life becomes more and more chaotic. Yet as his life spirals out of control, he finds that he actually enjoys it. Why?
Walt felt “stuck” teaching chemistry to high-school students who’d rather be anywhere else in the world than in his classroom. As an infamous criminal mastermind however, Walt finds the respect and admiration he had always thought he deserved. Walt ends up with everything he never had before, and is finally recognised as the brilliant scientist that he is, even though it ultimately ends in his death and in the ruined lives of those closest to him. In the end he admits that it was never about providing for his family; it was about him. In the final shot of the series Walt lies dying with a smile on his face, having got the fame he deserved, convinced that his gifts and abilities weren’t wasted after all.
Similarly, in the Disney film Soul (which you should absolutely watch, especially if you’re a musician), protagonist Joe is given the good news that he’s finally being offered a full time teaching position at his school. This would give him job security, a pension, a good medical care plan, and would generally see him set for life. Instead of being pleased with this good news, Joe laments; deep down his greatest desire is to play jazz piano for a living, and all this news does is reinforce the fact that he’s stuck in a 9-5 job not following his dream. Even though he has the job security many would dream of, he feels his life is wasted.
It’s not as if TV producers have made these stories up out of thin air. The fear of a wasted life is a very real one. I’m not going to link them all here, but if you do a quick google search on this topic you will be met with pages upon pages of forum posts, blogs, vlogs, TV interviews and articles of adults in their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond talking about this. Whether it’s mums who regret spending 20 years of their lives raising kids, or men in their 40s who believe that they’re now too old to live out their dreams, there’s no shortage of evidence to suggest that this is a very real concern for many people in our culture.
My view is that this topic is one worth looking at, especially from a Christian perspective.
With that in mind, we’re in part 2 of a 3 part series looking at what the Bible says about wasting our lives. Part 1 talked about humanity and the purpose of our lives – today we’re going to talk about the stuff we actually do, including our jobs.
To Glorify God: Created for Good Works
How would you feel if I told you that God made us to work? Maybe you’d agree. Maybe you’d disagree – strongly. Maybe the very thought makes you angry, or maybe you just aren’t sure. All of those would be valid reactions.
Now, let me be clear; when I say God made us to work, I don’t mean he made us to serve and slave under men and women who exploit us, use us and treat us unfairly. He didn’t create us to work endless 60 hour weeks, without rest or the opportunity to enjoy the good things he’s given us. He didn’t create us to idolise our career and put it above everything else. But he did create us to work with him and for him.
In Genesis 1, when God creates man, he puts him in control over the whole of creation; man was called to have dominion over the whole Earth, to subdue it and to multiply. Man was called rule over the beasts, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea. Man was instructed to take his food from the good trees and plants that God had created (Genesis 1:28). As his image bearers (Genesis 1:26) man was tasked with carrying the glory of God into all creation.
Work isn’t a result of sin, as some may like to believe! Work was something God created for his glory, and like everything God created in Genesis 1, it was good. However, like everything else, once sin came into the world work was tainted.
You see, it’s only after Adam sinned that work became a bad thing. When God cursed the land because of sin, what was originally the joy of working side by side with God suddenly became hard toil.
Man was still called to eat and multiply, but now the world itself would struggle against our efforts. Weeds, thorns and thistles sprouted up from the ground to entangle themselves with the good life-giving plants God had created. The ground itself became hard and unfertile, and the joy of childbirth became incredibly painful.
People, now knowing good and evil, would become hard to work with. To any parent, teacher, pastor, boss, office worker, nurse, doctor or anyone else who works with people out there – imagine how much easier your job would be if people weren’t sinful? If everyone was perfect, loving and kind, and no one looked out only for themselves, how much better would your job be? Quite a bit, I’d imagine.
Having walked and worked side by side with God in the Garden, after Genesis 3 man would now have to work seperated from God’s presence by his sin. Work became something we had to do, instead of something we got to do. 
Work continued all through the Old Testament into the New Testament, when Jesus was born. In the Gospels we read that Jesus’s adoptive Father, Joseph, was a carpenter, which probably meant that Jesus himself laboured as a carpenter too. The Son of God knows what it means to put in a hard day’s graft!
Jesus isn’t the only New Testament figure who may have worked a day job. The Apostle Paul was a tentmaker, along with Priscilla and Aquila. Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen, Matthew was a tax-collector, Luke was a physician, Lydia made a fortune selling purple cloth, some of the early converts were Roman soldiers, etc…
The Bible even suggest that work will continue in the new earth. There are hints all throughout the book of Isaiah for example, indicating that in the New Creation humans will once again work alongside God in perfect peace and joy, free from the troubles and the stresses of today, just as it was in Eden.
As you can see, the Bible isn’t silent on the subject of work, and it’s the work we do today that we will now look at.
A Change of Priorities
When Jesus called his first disciples, they were working. They were fishermen, who spent their days and nights toiling on the sea, trying to haul in enough fish to earn a living for them and their families.
Notice, then, that when Jesus calls them, he doesn’t call them away from work.
While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Matthew 4:18-19 (ESV)
Jesus didn’t change their job title. They were still expected to work – they were still fishers of some sort. Only now, they would be working for the things of God, and not for their own needs. Later on Jesus promised that if they served God, God himself would provide everything they needed (Matthew 6:33). 
The same is true for us today. For most of us, when Jesus calls us he doesn’t immediately call us to be monks, or pastors, or to quit our jobs and move to the Congo as missionaries.
When Jesus calls us our day-jobs may not change, but our allegiance does. Instead of living for ourselves or for our next paycheck, we’re to live for him. Instead of living to promote ourselves, we are to use our God-given giftings and abilities to bring glory to him.
Writing to the early believers in Corinth, the Apostle Paul says:
“Let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him…Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.”
1 Corinthians 7:17, 20 (ESV)
Paul’s advice to believers was that they shouldn’t rush to change their circumstances just because Jesus has called them – unless he makes it very clear otherwise. 
Later on, Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica:
“Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (ESV)
God isn’t opposed to Christians working day jobs. In fact, we are encouraged to work, in order that we might provide for ourselves and not be dependant on anyone – and so that we’ll have enough resources to provide for others in need.
So what am I saying? This: Are you a shopkeeper? Keep keeping that shop, unless God calls you into something else. Teacher? Keep on teaching, loving and witnessing to your colleagues and to the precious children God has entrusted to you. Caretaker or groundskeeper? Keep caring for that wee corner of the world God has given you dominion over.
Now, this isn’t always the case. If, for example, you’re a hitman who finds himself suddenly called to serve Jesus, it may be the case that the Lord doesn’t want you killing folk for money any more. Similarly, if you’re a drug dealer or sex worker, you may find that the call of Jesus is incompatible with your current line of work. Don’t worry – God has something better for you.
Serving and living for God doesn’t mean giving up our careers. It just means a reorientation of our priorities.
I often hear pastors and preachers say things like “God isn’t your boss – he’s your Father!”, often to a chorus of “amens!”. While this is true to an extent, it doesn’t paint the full picture. God is God. There is no single direct human term we can use to describe him – it’s impossible. This is why the Bible uses so many different words to describe God and how he relates to us. Don’t get me wrong – He is our Father, our provider and our helper – absolutely – amen to all of that! But he’s so much more, too.
Jesus often uses the terms “Master” and “Servant” in his parables. He is the Master, we are his servants. Yes, he calls us brother, sister, friend. Yes, we are sons and daughters of God the Father, Brothers and Sisters of God the Son and empowered and filled by God the Spirit. But God is still God; he is Lord, we are not. He is our kind and loving Master, who is a joy to work for and serve. He looks after us, provides for us, gives us all we need, and we in turn give our lives to serve him.
As a worker, you are to work diligently for your current employer (whether or not you hate them) as if you were working for God himself (Colossians 3:23).
As a follower of Jesus you are to adhere to his teachings, follow in his example, and be a witness to his resurrection.
And as a member of the Body of Christ – The Church – you are to serve His church with whatever gifts, abilities and passions God has given you (1 Peter 4:10-11, Romans 12:4-5, Ephesians 4:16). For some, that may mean helping teach at children’s church. For others it may mean playing music and helping to lead people in the sung worship of God, or offering a happy smile on the door, moving chairs, or maybe even teaching and leading others in a team or home group, depending on the model of your local church. As we’ve seen above, in most cases the New Testament expects that believers will do these things alongside a day job.
In my time as a Pastor, I’ve heard people say “I’m not called by God into full time ministry, so I sometimes feel like a lesser Christian.” Let me tell you in love: that is utter nonsense. The call of Pastor is one calling among many. Where we stand in the Kingdom isn’t based on the title we have – it falls on how obedient and faithful we are.
The Bible often talks about treasures in heaven. We don’t get into heaven based on the works we do, but depending on the work we do we will recieve different levels of heavenly rewards. This may be a controversial take, but I fully believe there will be plenty of God-fearing, faithful “ordinary” believers – precious people who have quietly served the church alongside their God-given day jobs – who will find themselves with greater treasures in heaven than some Pastors who have led their churches at the expense of living faithfully under God’s word. Just because you haven’t been called into full time ministry does not mean you are of any lessimportance in the Kindgom of God. If you take anything from this post, please let it be that.
Whether you are a school-teacher who faithfully leads a weekly Bible study for those in your community, a nurse who works 60 hour weeks while actively sharing your faith with your colleagues, or an office manager who helps lead God’s people in worship by playing guitar on Sundays, you can rest knowing that you are doing the work of God.
If you’re retired and do what you can by putting chairs out for people on a Sunday, or by sweeping the church floor after services, by serving your neighbours and actively sharing your faith with those on your street, you are doing the work of God.
Whether you’re the Senior Pastor, or the one who cleans the church toilets (maybe you’re both) – if you are serving the Lord and his church in whatever way you can in whichever way he has called you, you can rest confidently knowing that you are not wasting your life, and that you are storing up treasures for yourself in heaven.
The little things we do for the Kingdom are not wasted. God sees every tiny, insignificant looking thing we do, even when no one else does. To put it another way, in the words of my favourite line from Chariots of Fire: “You can praise God by peeling a spud if you peel it to perfection.”
Of course, sometimes the Lord will call people to change their circumstances. Those Fishermen Jesus called eventually became full-time missionaries, many of whom died horrible deaths as a result (don’t let any one tell you that following Jesus will mean everything will turn out well for you in this life – but that’s a topic for another post). But if he hasn’t called you to that, don’t worry about it. Live your life quietly, serving the Lord in whatever way you can. Be a faithful and open witness to Jesus’s ressurection. Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself. That’s all he asks of you. 
Find it by losing it
Let’s finish by comparing two people. Both are travellers. Both find themselves at the far ends of the world. The first person has been called by God to go to the other side of the planet, far from home, friends and family, and to live as a missionary in some of the most difficult situations imaginable. For this person, trouble and hardships are the norm, and the comforts of modern life are non-existent. It’s a hard life, but despite all of the pains and difficulties, God uses this person to bring many to faith and to show the world his glory.
Compare this to the second person, who also spends their life travelling the world, but in this case they do it because they can. They travel all over to the most exotic, exciting locations, enjoying it all, taking it all in and living for themselves.
Imagine they both died at the same time, at the same age. Which of those people would you say have wasted their lives? Western culture would probably tell us that the person who spent most of their life suffering and toiling for others for little gain was the one who wasted it. If the “you’ve only one life” mantra is true, surely the person who spent it exploring and enjoying it was the one who lived it to the full? On the contrary: according to Jesus, the person who spent their life living for themselves is one who wasted it, and they will soon lose it. The person who willingly chose to live sacrificially for the gospel, on the other hand, will soon find it.
Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Matthew 10:39 (ESV)
So go work at that job God has given you, whether it’s part time, full time, career enhancing or just temporary, and use every opportunity you have to serve others and point people to Jesus. If you do that, you can rest tonight knowing that your precious time on this earth is being used well.
In short? A life lived in service to Jesus, whatever that looks like, is never wasted.
Agree? Disagree? Either way, please feel free to leave a comment, and if you found this post helpful do share it on social media.
Note however that as believers in Jesus, who’s identity is now found in the Son and whos lives are filled and empowered with the Holy Spirit, we once again get to partner with God. In Christ, the state we found ourselves in in Genesis 3 moves closer to that of Genesis 2, to be fully consumated when Jesus returns. ⏎
The fact that Jesus found them fishing the morning after rising from the dead tells me that they either kept that job going during his ministry, or went straight back to it when they thought he was dead. ⏎
While the context here is specifically about slavery and circumcision, I’m of the understanding that the principle of the text applies to our day to day lives as well.⏎
As a side note, in talking about this I sometimes also hear people implying that God’s will for your life is based on your career. “God wants to move you up a level, he wants your business to succeed, he wants to give you success beyond your wildest dreams!” are the ones commonly heard. Maybe he does for some, but I simply cannot in good conscience stand behind a pulpit and make that promise for every single person in my congregation. Aside from being unbiblical (the American Dream isn’t in the Bible) that’s much less exciting than what God actually has in store for us. Our jobs are important, but the Bible puts far more emphasis on our spiritual fruit and obedience to Jesus than it does our careers. Don’t be bought into the lie that God’s “will” for your life is simply to enhance your worldly status, boost your career and make you rich – what he actually has for you is so much better! ⏎
I recently hit a major milestone in my life. I turned 30.
30 is a weird one. It’s not quite as significant as 20 (“I’m no longer a teenager!”) or as crisis-inducing as 40 (“how did this happen?”). It’s not old, not young, and not middle-aged. It sits awkwardly between the three.
By 30, some people will have a rough idea of what they want the rest of their life to look like, while others will still be wondering how on earth they managed to fake it this far.
On a personal level, the approach to 30 caused me to take time to reflect on my own life. For many our 20s are a time for us to enjoy, explore, experiment and experience.
And true enough, over the past ten years my social media feeds have been filled with images and videos of school friends exploring the world; from New Zealand to Thailand, Dubai to New York, a large number of my friends have spent their 20s discovering themselves, the world, and their place in it. Some spent their 20s chasing after their dreams, touring and playing music in stadiums all over Europe and the US, while others I grew up with are now internationally recognised sports stars.
Some “accomplish” more in their 20s than others do in their entire lives. It’s not uncommon to hear of people on Wall Street making their first million early in their 20s, ending up with enough money to retire by the time they hit 30.
Many of the most famous and successful musicians of the past 50 years wrote and released their most successful albums in their 20s. Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin – all of these musicians died in their prime at the age of 27, having become musical legends in the years before.
The past few months for my family and I have been…tumultuous, to say the least. As my wife and I both enter our 30s we’ve found that our lives are a bit more unsettled and open-ended than we thought they would be at this point. Having done so much in our 20s (married, had two kids, bought a house, planted a church, etc) we now find ourselves pondering what our place in the world together looks like going into our 30s.
Upon reflecting on all of this over the past few weeks I began to ask the question: how do we define a life lived well? How do we know that we aren’t simply plodding thorough life and wasting our short time on this Earth? I’m sure it’s a question that many of us have asked (or will ask) at some point in our lives. In fact, as a pastor, I’m 100% sure that some of you reading have asked these questions – I’ve BEEN asked the question in the title several times!
So I decided to do what I normally do when I reflect on life’s big questions: I turned to the Bible. The rest of this post will deal with looking at what the Bible says about how we live our lives, and how can live knowing it’s not wasted.
When I first proposed the topic of this post to my wife, her first comment was “The Bible says a lot about that. How are you going to fit it into a single post?”. As it turns out, she was right (as usual). It would take a whole book for me to reflect on everything the Bible has to say about this subject.
With that in mind, I’ve split this post up into two sections. Or at least, I did. Then I realised that even 2 posts wasn’t enough, so you’re getting 3 Parts. Parts 2 and 3 will be released in the coming week. You have to promise me that you’ll read all 3, otherwise you won’t get the full picture and will end up with an unfinished, unsatisfying answer. Promise me? Okay. You can read on.
Before we begin to ask the question about how we live our lives, we first must ask: why do we even have life in the first place? Again, not exactly the kind of question you can answer in a single blog post, but thankfully the Bible has something of an answer to that.
Moulded and Shaped
According to the book of Genesis, God created man and woman (Genesis 1:26). He created us from dust and personally breathed life into our nostrils (Genesis 2:7). Regardless of whether you believe in a literal or metaphorical interpretation of Genesis 1-2, the point is this: mankind is a physical being, and it is God who gives us life. More than that, it is God’s very essence (his breath, which can also be translated “spirit”) that gives us life. God is the one who formed us, and God is the one who gives us life. Whether you’re a devout and humble priest, or the most cynical atheist alive, the Bible claims that the only reason you currently have life in you is because God allows it.
The amazing thing about this is that God didn’t have to create us. He could have spent eternity in fellowship with Himself: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit would have existed together as One in perfect joy and unity. He could have created the angels and stopped there, but he didn’t. He could have created the animal kingdom, the mountains, the seas, the stars and the universe, and simply enjoyed his good creation and stopped there. But he didn’t.
God created us. He created you. He created me. How he did it is a conversation for another time – but the fact of the matter is that God made us because he wanted to.
Now, you may hate the idea of there being a God who is in control of everything. You may not even believe that he exists in the first place. Or maybe you think that you don’t even deserve to be on this Earth. That doesn’t matter. According to the Bible, if you’re reading this, you’re alive because the God you may or may not give any attention to wants you here – whoever you are, whatever you’ve done. You’re able to read this blog post because you have breath in your lungs, eyes to read with, and a device to read it on. God has given you these things regardless of whether you acknowledge him or not. This is what theologians would call the common grace of God.
I say all of this because it’s important. Before we understand anything about how to live our lives now, we have to first understand why we have life in the first place. And in our case, the Bible is clear: we’re here because the God wants us to be here. Isn’t that a wondeful thought?
The Chief End of Man
This summer Scotland has, like many places in the world, seen a series of unusual heatwaves. For us pasty white, ginger haired, freckled Scots, the heat is unbearable. I mean, some days it gets as hot as 16℃ . (You think I’m joking, but the truth is I once got sunburnt in a snowstorm).
(It’s almost as if the Earth is getting hotter – warming on a global scale, if you will…)
In the midst of this heatwave, my wife and I have come to rely on electric fans (for my US friends, most homes in the UK don’t have Air Conditioning). We have two electric fans which have stayed on pretty much all of the time, much to the delight of our electricity company. There have been many nights this summer when I simply haven’t been able to sleep if the fan wasn’t on (and many nights when my wife hasn’t been able to sleep because the fan was on…The key to a happy marriage is accepting that you can’t win).
In fact, as I type this sentence our fan is on besides me, blasting my face with cool air. It’s doing what it’s designed to do, and it has been for the past several weeks. It’s a cheap fan, and didn’t cost much money, but because of the use we’ve got out of it I can say with full confidence that it was money well spent. It has served its purpose well, and will hopefully continue to do so until Autumn comes and we get a very welcome break from this blistering heat.
The life of our fan isn’t wasted because it’s faithfullydoingwhat it was designed to do: keep us cool. If it didn’t do that, or if it did the opposite and somehow blasted hot air, it would not be fulfilling it’s purpose, and thus would be considered a waste of money.
The same is true for anything. If something is serving its purpose well, it isn’t wasted. Food that is eaten and enjoyed as it should be isn’t wasted. The money that goes into my bank account to pay my mortgage and feed my kids isn’t wasted. The hammock I got for my birthday and have used at every opportunity since (and am currently lying on as I edit this sentence) hasn’t been wasted – it’s been treasured.
This principle is also true of us. If we’re to know whether or not our lives are wasted, we need to think about what the reason for us being here is in the first place. For Christians (actually, for everyone, if what Christians believe is true…) our purpose in life can be found in the Bible. But since the Bible says so much about this topic, I decided to find something to help me sum it up: The Westminster Shorter Catechism 
The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism famously asks the question: What is the chief end of man? In other words, what is the purpose of mankind? Why are we here?
The response is simple, but glorious. The WSC answers: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
Why do human beings exist? What is our ultimate purpose? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. That’s it. That simple statement superbly sums up the purpose of our lives. The rest of this post will look at what it means and looks like to glorify God in our day to day lives.
To Glorify God: Created with Purpose
If you’ve read the Bible or been in church circles much, chances are you’ve heard the word “glorify” a lot. It’s a word featured in many of the most famous and well quoted Bible passages, it’s in countless worship songs, and it’s a favourite-go-to jargon phrase of anyone who’s ever been lost for words in a prayer meeting.
What does it mean to glorify something? In its simplest form, to praise, worship or make much of it. If I get a fancy new haircut (hah) and someone says to me “Wow, your hairdresser made a great job of that!” you could say (weirdly) that my hairdresser was receiving glory for the work he/she had done. When my daughter or son draws me a particularly good picture, I want to put it on the fridge for everyone who comes in our house to see – I want them to see the beauty of my child’s creation and to praise them for it. You could say I’d want them to receive glory for it. When a musical artist sells out an arena and thousands of people flock to hear them and cheer at them, that artist is, in a way, being glorified.
As human beings who have been made, shaped and worked on by God, our purpose, similarly, is to bring glory to the God who made us.
Psalm 115 is a Psalm that talks of all of the great deeds God does and has done, and how he cannot be compared to anyone or anything else in all of creation. It famously begins with the cry:
Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!
Psalm 115:1 (ESV)
The Psalmist starts this Psalm of praise with a declaration: we don’t want praise! We don’t want glory! Only God alone should receive that!
Human beings should not receive any glory that is meant for God. It is right and good for us to be praised, encouraged and applauded for doing good, but at the end of the day, the glory should never be about us.
In Isaiah 43, God speaks to his people and reminds them of his love for them, and of his constant presence with them. Look at this verse here:
bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
Isaiah 43:6-7 (ESV) [emphasis mine]
God explicitly says to his people here that they were created for his glory. They were created to glorify him. They were created so that people from all nations would see them and give praise to the God they followed. In Christ, the same becomes true of us. In Jesus we become part of God’s family, meaning the above verse becomes true of us too, wherever we’re from. Christians are God’s people. We are here for his glory.
Let Your Light Shine
How do we do this, then? How do we glorify God? There are several ways. Jesus himself gives the answer to his disciples in Matthew 5:
“…Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Matthew 5:16 (ESV)
Believers in Jesus are to live our lives in such a way that when people see us and the good things we do, they will bring glory and praise to God. It’s a hugely challenging command. I mean, if we’re being perfectly honest, how many of us think that’s the current case when people look at our lives today? I certainly don’t think so.
Whether it’s the way we talk, the way we act, the things that we do (and don’t do) – they are all to serve as signs pointing to Jesus.
Jesus’s teachings show us how to do this. They sound easy to do on paper, but they are much harder in practice. For example, Jesus tells us that when we see someone different from us, we’re to love them. When people try to take things and hurt us, we’re to bless them. While others would curse, scoff, and laugh at others, we’re to seek to love them and build them up.
When others talk slanderously and with vulgar words, we’re to speak gently and kindly.
When others would pass by an opportunity to help someone in need, we’re to step in and provide what we can, even if it costs us.
These are all things Jesus commands his followers to do, whether we’re a CEO or a doorman, whether we’re currently living our dreams or are stuck in limbo. Doing these simple things while being open about our faith is one of the many ways we can bring glory to God in our day to day lives, whichever situation we find ourselves in. Don’t buy into the lie that you have to wait for the right time in life to live for God!
Don’t buy into the lie that you have to wait for the right time in life to live for God!
Now, the simple truth is that sometimes living differently will make us seem weird to the non-believers in our culture. Many in our culture simply can’t understand some of the things Christians do.
Whether it’s saying no to something, or doing something that could be seen as beneath you, how insanely generous you seem to be with your money or possessions, or how you respond to the way others treat you – there will be times when people just don’t get how or why you do some of the things you do.
Our church has recently gone through a bit of a tough time. The former staff, including my wife and I, found ourselves without paid jobs, and it has been a tough couple of months on top of that. But we haven’t gone without – the generosity and support of our church has been astonishing. The church members set up a support fund to support the former staff, which has been a huge blessing. On a personal level, people have annoymously given us money. A couple of weeks ago a woman from our church got in touch to say she wanted to help pay for our mortgage the month. Last month our car died, but someone annoymously bought us a new car!
It’s been amazing, and my non-Christian friends and family are baffled. I have a good friend who just can’t wrap his head around how people can be so selfless. A non-Christian family member even commented that they should join our church if that’s what the people are like!
We’ve had support from other churches and networks, too. Leaders from other churches and denominations – even those from churches completely different to ours, who we may sometimes disagree with on secondary issues – have all poured out their love, support and provision, which has been amazing to see. The support from all sides of the Evangelical spectrum has been overwhelming, and the sense of unity among God’s people right now is wonderful.
When Christians act the way the Bible teaches us to, it’s totally counter-cultural and noticable to everyone looking in. The past two months have been difficult, but through the difficulty God’s church has shone it’s light for all to see. Through the trials, God is seeing to it that he is glorified in everything.
But it’s not just the things we do: God can also be glorified in the things that we don’t do, too.
In the early days of the church Christians could be arrested and sometimes executed for refusing to partake in the sinful practices of their day. For example, there were times in the early centuries of the church when it was required that citizens of the Roman Empire had to make offerings to the Emperor. Many Christians, believing that God alone deserved worship, often said no to this.
The result was that some were arrested, some were tortured, and some were killed.
Those early believers could have chosen to go along, so as not to be seen as weird, or to save their own lives, but the early church took the words of Jesus seriously when he said “Do not fear those who can destroy the body – fear the one who can destroy the soul”. When they heard the words of Paul, who proclaimed “Your life is not your own – you were bought with a price” – they took it seriously.
The early church in particular were so concerned with bringing glory to God that they allowed themselves to be mocked, beaten up, imprisoned, and sometimes even killed by those in power if it meant choosing to glorify God above the world. That didn’t kill the church – in fact, if anything, it caused it to grow.
For many of us today, glorifying God with our lives probably won’t result in death. But saying “no” to something the world says is okay when the Bible claims it’s sinful might mean being sneered at, mocked or abused. That’s okay, though. Jesus tells us to expect it (Matthew 5:11).
Our lives are not our own. We have been bought with a price. And when we live our day to day lives in the love, security and fear of the God who made us, knows and loves us, it acts like a giant neon sign above our heads that flashes constantly and points to Jesus. People may scoff at it, and they may even get annoyed by the constant flashing. But as Jesus says, our faith, when lived out, will be like a light that simply cannot be hidden.
So, what’s the first way we can tell we’re not wasting our lives? If we’re living for the purposes of God. It doesn’t matter if you’re a student, unemployed, in your dream job, or just in a transitional period – if you are currently living your life for the glory of God above all else, you can know that your time isn’t currently being wasted. And if you’re not, then hey – there’s grace for you to start right now.
So there you go. Part 1. Your purpose in life is to glorify God. Next time we’ll look at our jobs, and the work that God calls us to do.
Agree? Disagree? Want to say something? Please leave a comment, and if you enjoyed this post please feel free share it on social media!
For those unaware, the WSC is a document compiled by the Churches of England and Scotland in the 1600s, who sought to sum up some of the key doctrines of the Protestant Church. The Shorter Catchemism is laid out in a series of questions and answers, with each of them based on the teachings of the Bible. ↵
Note that when I talk of refusing to partake in sinful things I’m talking of things the Bible is clear about. I am NOT talking about things like masks, vaccines, voting, politics, etc. We need to choose the right hills to die on, and topics like that are NOT that. In fact, those things aren’t even hills. ↵
A couple of weeks ago I preached on Matthew 8:23-27 – the famous passage where Jesus calms the storm on the Sea of Galiee. As I was leaving church that evening, I got speaking to another pastor from our church. We joked about how it often seems as if God tests us on what we preached the week after preaching it. He was preaching on the demon possessed man the week after, and we both joked that if the above was true we were in for an interesting couple of weeks!
We laughed, we hugged (legally) and wished each other a restful Monday.
As is normal, the post-preaching slump hit on Monday morning – only this time it didn’t really go away. The rest of the week, as it turned out, was a stormy one. In fact if I’m being honest, weeks later the storm still hasn’t subsided. Just as we joked I found myself being tested on the very thing I’d preached on.
While I’d argue Matthew’s main point in sharing this was to show the primarily Jewish audience that Jesus is God – Lord over nature – I don’t think it’s a stretch to draw out the principle that Jesus is also sovereign over the Storms of life. Storms in the Bible often represent difficult circumstances and situations, after all.
As part of that message I linked the passage of Jesus in Storm with Jonah in his storm. The two passages have several striking similarities, but maybe that’s a discussion for another post…
Where do we turn?
One of the practical challenges I asked during the message was the question of how we deal with our storms. Are we like the sailors in Jonah’s storm, who prayed to every god under the sun before going to the true God? Or maybe we’re like those sailors who tried their best to fix the problem themselves by pointlessly throwing their cargo overboard?
Or are we like the disciples, who instinctively cried out to Jesus in the midst of the storm “Lord, save us!”.
To those without faith, my point was that there is no one else in the universe other than Jesus Christ who can save us from the storm of death and God’s wrath. To believers, my challenge was to ask where they go to when they face storms of life – do they go straight to their idols and false gods (Netflix, food, alcohol, drugs, pornography, etc) – or do they instinctively cry out to the One who can actually deliver and sustain them?
The week after preaching that, and in the weeks that followed, I found myself faced with that very question. When storms come, do I instinctively go to my loving Father in heaven, or do I turn to the things of the world to comfort me?
If God really was testing me then I can honestly and wholeheartedly say that I failed the test.
In the days and weeks after that message things weren’t easy. Jodie, myself and the kids all got sick, which lasted a couple of weeks. Finances grew tight as we were hit with unexpected expenses. A member of our congregation passed away. During the COVID pandemic I haven’t been as pastorally hands on as I would have liked to be, and have had to deal with the after effects of that. The logistics of planning in person services and gatherings again – organising venues, teams, etc – simply became another burden rather than the joy it should have been. My mental health and general mood began to slump. In recent weeks a situation has arisen that is extremely difficult for myself and those close to me to deal with.
In all of this if I’d heeded my own words I would have turned to the Lord and trusted him for everything. But I didn’t – at least, not at first. In the weeks proceeding that message prayer became a chore. Picking up my Bible became a constant battle of the will, which I often lost. I had planned to write an accompanying blog post along with my sermon but I couldn’t find the mental energy to start writing again.
Instead of turning to Jesus, I found myself turning to some of the very things I’d pleaded with people not to turn to. I became very aware of my hypocrisy, and had to laugh at how true (almost prophetic…?) that light-hearted, tired conversation with my pastor friend at the end of that busy Sunday turned out to be.
So why am I writing all of this?
Well, me being a hypocrite who sometimes doesn’t even follow his own instruction does not stop Jesus from being perfect and good. It does not stop the comforting power of the God who loves us from comforting and loving us. And when we do fail to turn to him in the storms of life, it does not mean that he abandons us. Quite the opposite, actually.
He Knows Me
A couple of mornings ago I found myself in the outside seating area of a McDonalds. I’d dropped my car off at a nearby garage to get parts of it fixed and had time to kill while I waited. So I went to McDonalds, got myself a coffee, sat outside and opened my Bible.
Now, one of the things I’m often saying is that we can’t just treat our Bible reading like a tick-box exercise. Ten minutes spent reading the passage our Bible reading plan tells us to read like robots every day is better than nothing at all, but if that’s the only way we engage with the Bible…it’s not going to do us much good. The Word of God is living and active. It is alive; it speaks to us today, in our present circumstances. There are passages, parables, poems, prayers, instructions, proverbs and truths about God that can guide us in every situation we can face. One benefit of getting to know the Bible intimately is that you get to know where to turn when you need to hear the comforting, encouraging and sometimes rebuking voice of God.
That morning I didn’t feel like going through my reading plan (sorry Jeremiah, but God’s judgement on Assyria had to wait) so I turned to one of my favourite Psalms, Psalm 139. Here’s the first few verses:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
Psalm 139:1-6 (ESV)
I took my time to chew on every word, every line, every verse. And as I did, the comfort that washed over my soul was like a warm blanket, and the peace of God filled me in that McDonald’s outdoor seating area.
Like this, but in McDonalds.
God knows me. He knows my heart. He knows the frustrations and thoughts I have but (rightly or wrongly) choose not to give voice to. He knows when I feel distant from him, why I feel distant from him – even though he never is. He knows how fickle I am, and he knows how aware of it I am. He knows my hypocrisy, he knows my failings, and he knows my occasional tendancy to run from him rather than to him.
He knows every thought I think, good or bad, gentle or sinful.
There is no hiding before him. All is laid bare and exposed before the God who made and knows our hearts. It is a scary thought – but it’s also a comforting one.
He is With Me
Psalm 139 (which I’d encourage you to take time to read through just now) reminds me; that in all of this, he is with me. He is before me. He is behind me. He surrounds me. There is not a place I can go, physically, emotionally or spiritually, where he is not present. There is not a situation I can lead myself or fall into where his arms aren’t ready to embrace me with love, grace and mercy.
It’s not because I’m awesome, or because I deserve it. In fact the Bible says that before God brought me to faith I was incapable of doing good. I was incapable of loving God. I had absolutely nothing to offer him, but while I was still dead in my sin, Jesus died for me. He didn’t die for some future, perfect version of me. He didn’t die for the Jordan I could one day become. He died for the sinful, helpless, or as my calvinist pals would say, totally depraved version of me.
Since I am in Christ and am covered by him, despite my ongoing battle with indwelling, lingering sin, I am justified, and made perfect by the blood of Jesus Christ.
His righteousness surrounds me in my coming, in my going, in my successes, and in my failures; in my devotion and in my wandering.
I was bought, saved and welcomed into the family of God not based on anything I’d done, but based purely on his mercy, goodness and love. And as Paul said in Romans, if Jesus Christ saved me at my worst, how much more will he save me now, that I’m alive and justified in Christ?
There is nowhere I can go to escape God. There is no place, be it in my own soul, or in my current situation, where he cannot find me. Even the darkest darkness is light to him. If I woke up tomorrow and somehow found myself in the depths of the sea, or floating in space in some galaxy billions upon billions of light-years away, the Lord my God would still be with me.
He is patient. He is kind. He does not boast. He keeps no record of wrongs. He is slow to anger.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We can’t reduce God to a sippy-sappy being who is nothing more than a projection of our own emotional longings. He is jealous for us. He is a Good Father who does discipline those he loves. He is storing up wrath for those who reject the mercy offered by his Son.
But for those of us in Christ, we need not fear these things. Jesus overcame the storm of death, and endured the storm of God’s wrath himself. He faced them so that we wouldn’t have to.
And because of that the storms of life are like nothing to him.
Trust him. Love him. Turn to him.
Even if you’re a hypocrite with a tendancy to wander like me, take heart; Jesus is our Good Shepherd, who will never abandon his sheep.
Christ is our anchor in the storm. He is sure and steadfast. He will never fail. Never give up. In him, we are never alone.
Take heart, believer: In Christ, the storms may come…but they will never overcome.
Agree? Disagree? Want to say something? Please leave a comment! If you were encouraged by this post, please feel free to share it on social media or with your pals.
My wife and I were one of the few 20-something couples in the UK fortunate enough to get on the property ladder during the last decade. Our budget was tight, so we bought what was essentially an old smoking den with the intention of spending the next several years building it up to something nice and homely. Within a year we had the inside of the house refubished to the point where my kids could sleep in their bedrooms without waking up with a lung infection, and it’s been steady progress since then.
The last thing on our list of things to fix up was the garden. This property has a MASSIVE back garden space. It was actually one of the reasons we first bought the house. We knew when we bought it that it would need a tonne of work, but the thought of our kids having a space half the size of a football pitch to run around in made us giddy with excitement. So we began the slow journey of working away at it over time, and I am pleased to say that by God’s grace and provision we finally got it turfed last week. We now have a beautiful green lawn that requires my attention every day so that it doesn’t die.
For reference, here’s what the garden looked like when we first bought it:
And here’s what it looks like today:
It’s an amazing transformation, and one that we’re extremely thankful for. Over time I’ve began to realise more and more that the gradual transformation of our garden has been a metaphor of God’s work in my own life. Below are 5 of the Spiritual Lessons I’ve learned…From Building my Garden:
#1: Christ Purchased Us When We Were At Our Worst
As you can see, when we got the garden it was a complete mess. The grass and weeds stood taller than us, there were hidden dips and mounds that played havok with our ankles, there was no fence, and at the back of it there was a sheer drop down onto an old scrapyard. As we’d later find out, beneath all of it was a dump truck’s worth of rubble – bricks, stones, boulders, pottery, glass and junk. Getting it into a usable state turned out to be a lot more trouble than we realised.
Saying that, we bought it knowing that it would take a lot of work. We bought it knowing that while it wasn’t perfect, we would be committed to making it into what it could be. There is a similar truth found in the Bible about us.
There’s a well known verse in book of Romans, written by the Apostle Paul. This is what it says:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-8 (ESV), [Emphasis mine]
As I said in my last post, humanity is tainted by sin. Sin is evil. It’s ugly. It brings death and corruption to everything it touches. Every human being born today is born into sin, and no matter how much we try to scrub it away or get rid of it ourselves, we can’t. Our sin is offensive to God. By all rights, he would have been perfectly justified to leave us in it and let us die. But he didn’t.
While we were still in our sin – still offensive, still wicked, still enemies of God – Jesus Christ died for us.
He didn’t wait until you had met a certain standard. He didn’t wait until you were ready. He didn’t wait until you showed signs of improving.
God saw all of your sin, all of your ugliness, all of the things you do and will do that go against his good wishes – and he still loved you. He didn’t die for the person you could be – he died for the person you are and were, at your worst. As one of my favourite preachers Matt Chandler puts it:
God is not in love with a cleaner, more put together, future version of you. His love for you right now is steadfast…
We bought my garden when it was a mess because we were able to see beyond its ugliness. We loved that space for what it was, and we commited ourselves to working on it.
In the same way, if you are in Christ, he died for you when you were dead in your sin.
God doesn’t love the version of you 10 years from now. He doesn’t love the version of you when you get tidy yourself up a little bit. He loves the version of you right now, with all of your kinks, faults and sin.
God doesn’t love the version of you 10 years from now. He doesn’t love the version of you when you get tidy yourself up a little bit. He loves the version of you right now, with all of your kinks, faults and sin.
The Bible states that as soon as you put your faith in Christ, you are given his righteousness. (Romans chapters 3,4,5, 1 Cor 1:30, etc…) Theologians call this imputed righteousness. In Christ, believers are made Holy. That doesn’t mean we always act Holy, but as far as God is concerned we become as guiltless as his son, and he is commited to making us look like that more and more. This is known as “sanctification“. Read this quote from Romans 8 below:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Romans 8:28-29 (ESV) [Emphasis mine]
Romans 8 is one of the centrepiece chapters of the Bible. While verse 28 is well known, verse 29 is a little less so. The word “predestined” in that verse sometimes scares people. I’m not going to get into the topic of predestination just yet, as I can’t be bothered with the calvinism vs arminianism debates that will erupt in my comments section. Maybe later.
In this context, all the word “predestination” means is this: it is the believer’s destiny to become like Jesus. God is committed to shaping us, moulding us and conforming us into the image of his Son. It means the uprooting and removing of sinful patterns, habits and desires in our lives. This is what sanctification is; it’s God’s work in making us more like his Son.
While this is good news, it can be painful, as unfortunately…
2. Sanctification Takes Time
It’s been 4 years since we moved into this house, and progress wasn’t always quick. The weeds were stubborn and took a lot of work to get rid of. Not only that, but they didn’t stay gone for long. We’d clear a part of the garden, take a short break when the weather turned, then go back within a week and find that everything had already grown back and it seemed like we were back at square one. Sanctification is a bit like this.
When I first put my faith in Jesus, some of my sinful habits and desires literally disappeared over night. Things I thought would be a struggle suddenly weren’t a struggle any more. I wish I could say that was the case for everything, but it hasn’t been. My walk with Jesus has gone through ups and downs, and my battle against my indwelling sin has seen highs and lows too. There have been times over the past 9 years when I thought I’ve been over a struggle, only for it to rear its ugly head again a couple of years down the line.
I can’t remember how many times I’ve cried out to God asking for help and grace for things that I keep stumbling over. There are times I’ve wondered if I’ll ever “get there”. And the truth is, I won’t. Not on this side of glory, at least. I will be a work in progress until the day I die, and that’s okay. In fact, the sooner we come to terms with that, the more we’ll be able to find freedom in the gospel.
Once we finally come to the place where we can rest in the finished work of Jesus and say with confidence that we have been made righteous and clean by him we’ll be encouraged to push into God when we sin, not run away from him.
Once we finally come to the place where we rest in the finished work of Jesus and say with confidence that we have been made righteous and clean by him we’ll be encouraged to push into God when we sin, not run away from him.
For most of us the journey of sanctification is much slower than we’d like. We want to be better now. We want to overcome now. But God’s timing rarely matches our timing. We are a work in progress, and our Lord and Master is comitted to making us like him, no matter how long it may take. Just like my garden there will be setbacks – there will be seasons where it seems like we’ve taken 3 steps forward and 4 steps back – but in the end, we’ll get there. We just have to trust that God knows what he’s doing. Afterall, his patience and love far outweighs our sin and stubborness.
3. Growing In Spiritual Maturity Requires the Help of Others
The transforming of our garden has been a monumental team effort. Jodie and I received a lot of help, both practical and financial, from our parents. Through a chance conversation at the school gates, one of our neighbours built a fence around the entire garden for free. Last year when our extended family were allowed to finally visit again they spent a whole day helping us get it painted. Friends and family members have loaned us tools to help get it done quicker, and the bulk of the work done in the past month was done by a professional landscaper.
Through the generosity and support of others, God has provided and given us everything we’ve needed to get the garden to what we envisioned it to be.
The same is true of our walk with God. Personal experience has shown me that those who try to follow Jesus without the help and support of other believers around them often end up crashing, or falling back into their sin. It is extremely difficult to grow as a disciple of Jesus without the input of others.
For my own journey of faith, I had a headstart in that a huge number of folks in my church made it their personal responsibility to disciple me from the beginning. Within a week of praying with someone I was introduced to some of our student small group leaders, who invited me and Jodie to join a student small group, which became our extended family for the next year. On top of that, two mature believers met with me every week to go through a course that went through the basics of the Christian faith. I was often the only one to turn up, which I’m sure was discouraging for them, but they pressed on: week after week for months they’d meet me, answer my questions and help me explore my new found faith. A year into my faith, our student pastor took a personal interest in me and began to meet with me one on one to pray and study scripture together.
The Christian life is not easy. Temptations and trials hide around every corner. The book of Proverbs famously says that iron sharpens iron, and we need people in our lives who God can use to sharpen us, to help see our blind spots and to keep us acountable.
There are fellow pastors and leaders in my church who I know I can turn to if I’m struggling – be that emotionally, or spiritually. Those same people aren’t afraid to ask me difficult questions about my life, faith, and marriage, which I’m sure my wife has appreciated! Sometimes I don’t realise I’m being a crappy husband until a question asked by a close friend helps me see it.
On top of that, there are a few people in my life who I know I can go to to confess or unpack anything without fear of judgement. I’m allowed to be known, and that is so freeing.
It is God who saves, and God who does the act of sanctification. But it is often through his people that he does these things.
You can be a Christian without a local church; but you can’t live the Christian life without the local church. This phrase maybe a clichè, but it’s ultimately true.
Our garden is ours – it belongs to my wife and I. But others have taken it upon themselves to input into it and to help us with it, to make sure that it grows and becomes what it was meant to be. The same is true of our souls. Lord have mercy on the Christian who tries to go at it alone! They make themselves an easy target for the enemy. Speaking of mercy…
4. It Is The Mercy of God to Reveal Our Hidden Sin
Our house is next to an old mine. And where our garden is now once stood various cottages and garages, no doubt used by mining families when the mines were active. These houses had been knocked down at the back end of the last century, and the rubble/foundations of the old buildings were left where they lay. As the years went on the weeds grew over everything, hiding the mess from plain sight. When the ground was finally churned up we found that our garden was suddenly swimming in bricks, boulders, glass, stones, pottery, tools, household items and a whole host of other rubbish. With the ground in that state it was going to be impossible to sow seeds or lay turf. We’d finally conquered one problem, but all it did was raise another one, hidden deep under the surface.
During the last lockdown I spent a lot of my spare time digging up the rubble in the garden. It was tiring work. Some of the bricks were stuck together just below the surface, and for those a good hit from a pickaxe or a sledgehammer was enough to get them loose. Some of the brickwork was set several feet underground, however, and for those ones I had to dig deep and wide in order to get them out. It was when I was digging out these foundations that I often stumbled across another group that wasn’t even visible before. I remember digging out the foundations of one of the cottages, and by the time I’d finished I’d discovered 3 more that had been hidden away! Every time I seemed to make progress something else came up.
As I was digging up these foundations, we had just gone into our first nationwide lockdown in the UK. After a few weeks of being stuck indoors with only my wife and kids for company, God began to reveal things in me that I had never noticed. For example, I discovered that I was much more selfish than I realised – I loved time to myself too much, and the fact that I could no longer get it was leading to tension in our house. I was also less patient than I thought. My fuse was much shorter than I realised. Given the opportunity to be stuck in doors and not go out, laziness came easily to me. It was uncomfortable learning these things about myself, but it was in God’s mercy that he revealed them to me. If he hadn’t, they would have sat under the surface, undealt with, just waiting for the right opportunity to spring out of the ground and bring chaos and destruction to my life.
Had we planted seeds or lay turf in the garden without digging up all of the rubble first, we would have found that the grass would struggle to grow, and all the money spent would have been wasted. Since these things had been revealed we were able to deal with them then and there, meaning there was room for future growth and new life.
So it is with sanctification. God is wholly committed to us. He wants all of us – not just parts of us. When we notice the Lord do a work in us, sometimes we can say “great, thanks God. You’ve helped me overcome. I’m good now.” But the Lord’s work is just beginning. He doesn’t just want that part of us – he wants all of us. Every part of us, even the bits hidden deep down, he wants them conformed to his image, obliterated and rebuilt in his love. We often overcome one problem, and God immediately begins to work on something else. It’s frustrating, but it’s much better than the alternative.
It might be difficult when the Lord reveals your sin. Sometimes he’ll even do it publicly. It will be uncomofortable, humbling, and maybe even shocking. But sin always leads to death, and it’s in God’s mercy that he reveals it for us – because he loves us. He does this for our good and for our joy. For those of us in Christ, we can take comfort in the fact that God is ferociously commited to us. Rather than fight back, we can ask him to reveal the hidden sin in our heart, to give us freedom, joy and life in him.
5. God Will Finish The Work He Started In Us
Our garden still isn’t finished. The grass is down, but it currently needs constant attention in order to make sure that it takes root. Our patio is still a mess, and is in need of an (un)healthy dose of weed killer and a good blast from a powerwasher. In the future we’d like to get decking, a raised flowerbed, and maybe even plant a tree or two.
I’m not sure what the garden will look like when we’re done with it, but I know that, Lord willing, we’ll get there eventually.
The same can be said of God’s work in us.
I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6 (ESV)
Paul’s words here are just as true of us as they were for the Philippians. God is commited to us. He chose us before the foundation of the world, called us and saved us. He didn’t save us just to leave us to our own devices; he saved us for a reason.
No one will be perfect in this current life. We are all, and always will be until the day we die, a work in progress. God can handle that.
Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t an excuse for us to live in sin and conciously make mistakes – the same Bible that promises his grace and forgiveness also commands us to be Holy, because God is Holy. But we can live with confidence knowing that despite all of our faults, our failings – our indwelling sin – God is with us and for us. He is making us like Jesus. It’s happening, even if it doesn’t feel like it. In fact, I bet if you took a moment to stop and look back over your life now compared to five years ago you’d begin to notice little signs of his work being done in you.
Jesus Christ purchased us with his blood, and let me tell you; he doesn’t have buyer’s remorse. God knew what he was buying when he bought you. He didn’t buy some future, perfect version of you. He bought the broken, ugly, sinful version of you.
Jesus Christ purchased us with his blood, and let me tell you; he doesn’t have buyer’s remorse.
God excels in bringing beauty from ashes; bringing light into darkness; bringing death to life, and turning sinners into saints.
That work often takes longer than we like. It requires the help of others. It will take a lot of digging and soul searching, and sometimes the uncomfortable revealing of the hidden depths of our heart, but it’s not for nothing. He will finish the work. There will come a day when your sin will be nothing but a distant memory, and the struggles you face today will seem like a whisper in the wind.
In a couple of weeks my kids will be allowed to play on our grass for the first time. As joyful as that day will be for us, it will be nothing compared to joy the Father will have the day Jesus Christ presents us before him faultless, perfect and holy.
Take heart, believer: God is overwhelmingly for you.
Agree? Disagree? How have you noticed the work of God take place in your own life? Let me know below in the comments! Also, if this post helped you please feel free to share it on social media and with your friends.
Great question! One I’ve asked myself many, many times over the past few months…
My name is Jordan. I live in a small town in the south of Scotland, just outside of Edinburgh. I am a Christian.
I became a follower of Jesus in 2012, after having no religious upbringing at all. Years later I found myself serving as one of the Pastors at City on a Hill, Edinburgh.
I was raised in a small town in the South of Scotland. (If anyone wants to know what that was like, go and listen to Scottish comedian Kevin Bridges’ first two live shows. No one else sums it up as accurately as he does.)
My worldview was shaped in that wee town, and by the time I was 21 I thought I had things mostly figured out.
Then I met Jesus Christ. I fell in love with him and his word, and he began to shape and change me. 9 years later, my worldview has changed, but without the theological or cultural baggage that many people who grew up in church have.
I am a man who finds himself politically and culturally homeless. My views are usually too conservative for my liberal pals, and too liberal for conservatives. I’m too left leaning for righties, and too right leaning for lefties. I’m unapologetically charismatic in my beliefs, but am almost reformed enough (little r, not big R) to make some of my fellow charismatics a little uncomfortable.
So rather than giving myself an anyeurism by holding in all of my conflicting opinions and thoughts, I thought I’d give myself an outlet through this blog.
I’ll post about stuff that’s going on in the world – stuff relevant to my life, at least, and stuff that I know enough about to talk about (fellow bloggers – take note).
As a lover of the Bible, I’ll also post regular devotionals and reflections on certain passages as they come up in my life.
When I write, I write with the ordinary folk at my church in mind. For those who haven’t been theologically trained, for regular folk who follow Jesus, and perhaps even for folk who don’t know him. Most posts are in the form of easy to read articles, with a smattering of millennial pop-culture references you will either get or shake your head at.
This blog isn’t particularly academic, nor does it try to be, though I do my due diligence and try to make sure everything I post is well-researched and balanced. If you notice any mistakes, please get in touch.
I’m educated, but I don’t have a PhD. I’m definitely not a leadership guru. I don’t want to be an influencer. I don’t care about people knowing my name. I’m the most unlikely person I can think of to be in the position I’m in. I get things wrong sometimes, and I’m always open to having my viewpoints challenged and changed.
At the end of the day, I’m just a sinful man who was loved, purchased, saved and made holy through no doing of my own. I’m surprisingly sacred.
If you enjoy my rambling, feel free to comment. If you don’t, thanks for the page view.