This week’s guest post on the 2018 Blog Tour comes from Dr Mark Adams. His blog is really well done, so do yourself a favour and check it out HERE.
“It was in the last place I looked.”
One of my least favorite expressions follows an anxious search for keys, wallets, and phones. Having scoured the house, the office, or the last place someone visited, when they find what they’ve been seeking, they might exclaim, “Wouldn’t you know it? I found it in the last place I looked for it!”
My inner response is always, “If you’ve already found it, why would you continue looking?” Nobody ever says, “Hey, now that I have my car keys in hand, I’m going to check a few more places to see if they’re there, also.” While there are aspects of our Christian journey that involve a continual seeking and searching, such as a deeper understanding of God’s inexhaustible love and mercy, there are some things that we should stop seeking the way that we had before we were Christians. Here are three things that Christians can stop seeking.
- You can stop seeking people’s applause and approval.
The great goal for which all Christians are striving is to stand in the presence of God, and to hear God say, “Well done!” We earnestly seek God’s applause. In Christ, we are confident that there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” This frees us to live out of our joy and appreciation for the love God has poured on us with lavishness.
Likewise, it matters to us that people can see the good things that we do because of our faith, and even if they don’t join us, they can still glorify God because of what God has done through us. We care that people will assume things about God because of what they see in us.
Even so, as Christians, we need not seek people’s applause and approval the way that the world does. If your sense of self-worth and happiness derives only from what people think and say about you, you’re going to be drinking from a water source that will generally leave you thirsty. People are fickle. They can love someone one minute and turn on them the next minute for a variety of reasons these days, and the function of the always-present smartphone combined with social media only exacerbates and hastens the problem. If you subject your well-being to the hands of people who are chasing after popularity of their own, no matter how much you’ve been liked or admired, you’re still going to have to keep seeking their approval.
Do you understand that God loves you as his own, irrespective of any other factor you could think up or present? Even if your walk involves the occasional stumble or tumble, you rest safe in the Grace of God whose love for you existed even before you did. You can stop seeking people’s applause and approval because God has the final word, and God loves you dearly. As he demonstrated in Christ, he would rather die than try to imagine Eternity without you there.
- You can stop seeking to establish your value through your own competence.
I struggle with anxiety if I feel underprepared for a situation. I work on my sermons and classes far in advance. I try to study every angle of something about which I believe people might ask me. I’ve always worked hard to be a resourceful person, to whom people feel they can turn if they need knowledge and insight. Sometimes, this can become an idol.
Your idol may not be an idol of knowledge, but there are probably other ways you try to establish your worth through what you can do. Are you the person who can get things done? Are you the person who always directs or volunteers in a certain way? Are you the person on whom everyone has to depend when they need a certain thing?
It is one thing to be a valuable asset because of your love for the greater community. It is another thing to share your gifts and talents, but to have strings attached for what you expect in return. It is a blessing to be able to share, to give, and to inspire. But when we must be seen a certain way because of what we can do, we have stopped relying on God for our sense of worth and have settled for an idol, who will leave us unsatisfied. Your gifts are yours for the building up of the body of Christ. Use them for the good of others, and stop seeking to establish your worth through what you can do, rather than through the way God has valued you.
- You can stop seeking to prove your worth through your possessions.
Christians in the West have a hard time letting go of our cultural tendency to buy things for their status rather than for their usefulness. Name brands, vehicle sizes and features, and a variety of clothing and personal ornamentation do and will continue to grab the world’s attention. It is this tendency, I believe, that Paul is addressing when he warns about the importance of dressing with modesty. Even though he would probably be in agreement with our general aversion to dressing overly “sexy,” Paul is concerned that when a person shows off their value through what they use to clothe themselves, they necessarily exclude and demean the poor among us who have no ability to succeed in a contest of possession acquisition.
Let us not forget that those of us who have been baptized into Christ have clothed ourselves with Christ. Jesus is our brand. Jesus is our identity. Jesus is our greatest treasure and our highest hope.
Before you make your next purchase, you might ask yourself:
- Is this valuable for how it is useful, or for how it will make people see me?
- Does my displaying of this item potentially alienate someone who can’t afford one of the same?
- Do I get uneasy at the thought of people not seeing me as successful for wearing a lesser brand?
Until we stand before God, may we always seek God with a holy hunger. May we never exhaust our desire to learn and embody God’s love. But for now, let’s remember that we’ve already found what matters most. We can stop worrying so much about what other people think about us. We can quit trying to prove how strong we are on our own. If we were really so strong, we wouldn’t have needed a Savior. We can stop distracting people from a treasure of ultimate worth by obsessing over things we know we’ll be donating to Goodwill next year. One of the many ways Jesus lightens our burdens is by helping us to release what we no longer need to seek.
Dr. Mark Adams is the preaching minister for the Kings Crossing Church of Christ in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married to his wife Carolina, whom he met when the two of them were students together at Harding University. He is also a graduate of Lipscomb University. You can learn more about Mark at his website: https://kingdomupgrowth.com
Psalm 4 is not a simple song to read and follow the train of thought.
Two commentaries I read interpreted the psalm in completely different ways. The first focused on v7 and concluded that a severe drought, possibly connected to idol worship from v2, was the context of the psalm. As a result he primarily applied the psalm to our lives by warning against using contemporary idols to distract us from trusting God.
I followed the second interpretation views the psalm as an evening benediction that I’ll describe below. I don’t really have the expertise to decide between the interpretations of these two scholars, but I found this second reading plausible and more applicable to my life, and hopefully yours.
The psalmist breaks the song into 4 sections, each bookended by a similar thought/topic.
|1. The Lord answers prayer||v1 Answer me…||v3 …the Lord hears.|
|2. Trust in the Lord||v4 Tremble…||v5 …trust in the Lord|
|3. Prayer of confidence||v6 Prosperity…?||v7 …abound!|
|4. Sleep well|
The psalmist begins (v1-3) by laying his situation out before God. We don’t get a lot of details but we understand that there’s conflict. I think many of us will resonate with the psalmist’s situation. He gets to the end of a day. It’s been a rough day. There’s been some conflict and he feels disrespected and even like his reputation has been muddied. Lies have been told. He comes home frazzled.
A key phrase occurs at the end of v2. The Hebrew words can be translated as either “seek false gods” or “seek lies”. In one sense false gods are lies, so they can both be correct. However, if we read this verse as the psalmist defending himself, it seems to fit better that he’s offended by lies being told against him.
Each section concludes with a statement of confidence, and verse three closes with the psalmist reminding himself, and his oppressors, “The Lord hears when I call to him.” we all need that reminder at times, don’t we? This is why many people use prayer journals in their devotional lives. They allow the opportunity to go back and look at past prayers and remind themselves that God still hears when we call to him.
Verse 4 begins the second section with a in dramatic fashion with a single word directed at his tormentors, “Tremble”. The psalmist doesn’t provide a reason to tremble. He may have fear in mind, but I suspect that his motive is anger. This meaning was adopted by the Septuagint (an important translation of the Old Testament into Greek) and quoted in Ephesians 4:2, “In your anger do not sin.”
The psalmist advises his opponents to contain their anger and malice. They should examine their hearts and be silent. But stopping their bad behaviour isn’t enough. They need to get right with God, so the author advises them to offer sacrifices, to worship, and to trust God. Again this last line has relevance not only for the troublemakers, but also for the psalmist. To gain a healthy perspective on this situation and life as a whole, worship and trust God.
The third section opens in v6 with a question, a doubt, maybe even an accusation against Yahweh. “Where will good things in life come from?” Having expressed that doubt the psalmist immediately answers his own question by quoting from Aaron’s blessing in Numbers 6:24-27. This blessing that he’d no doubt heard many times before points him to God as the provider of all good things. “May the light of your face shine on us.” The greatest joy for which he prays is not that of a harvest, of food or drink, but an awareness of the light of God’s face shining upon him.
Having completed this process of moving his thoughts from dwelling on the turmoil of the day to dwelling on the blessings of God, the psalm concludes,
“In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, Lord,
make me dwell in safety.”
Regardless of what life throws at us, may we each sleep in peace, confident of God’s protection and that the light of His face shines upon us.
- You can listen to this sermon here.
Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13 – CEB)
Since we belong to the day, let’s stay sober, wearing faithfulness and love as a piece of armor that protects our body and the hope of salvation as a helmet. (1 Thessalonians 5:8 – CEB)
For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, which come from your confident hope of what God has reserved for you in heaven. (Colossians 1:4-5a)
Most Christians quickly grow familiar with 1 Cor. 13:13, “Now abide faith, hope and love…”, but I was surprised to learn that this grouping of terms occurs in several places throughout the New Testament. I’ve listed some of these occurrences above.
But this isn’t a uniquely NT grouping. Look at these verses from Lamentations 3 describing God: Hope, Faith, and Love.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
An alternative, but similar, grouping occurs in other New Testament passages. In the verses below the concept of “endurance, or patience” replaces “hope”.
You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance (2 Timothy 3:10 NIV)
Tell the older men to have self-control and to be serious and sensible. Their faith, love, and patience must never fail. (Titus 2:2 CEV)
I know all the things you do. I have seen your love, your faith, your service, and your patient endurance. And I can see your constant improvement in all these things. (Revelation 2:19 NLT)
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness… (Galatians 5:22)
Since some of these groupings crop up only in longer lists the connection isn’t super strong. But finally… HERE’S THE POINT I’m making…
Hope and endurance seem to be closely connected terms. Perhaps in the minds of the early church they were even interchangeable. I was pointed in this direction by the Anchor Bible Dictionary article on “Hope”. It has this to say,
“One may surmise that at one time faith and love were found paired without hope, perhaps as a summary of the double commandment of love of and and of neighbor. Living the commandment of love within the “already/not yet” tension brings the Christian personal experiences, denominated “trials” or “tribulations.” At this point, there enters upon the scene a gift of the Holy Spirit to sustain the believer amidst adversity, that of “hope” which is sometimes accompanied by “perseverance.” (284)
A key verse in establishing this connection is 1 Thessalonians 1:3 “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” It would not be true to say work, labour and endurance are the equivalent of faith, hope and love. However given the previous verses I’ve quoted, this verse describes hope motivating endurance.
Hope, defined as “confident expectation”, not “wishful thinking”, motivates endurance in the face of opposition and persecution. Big picture hope gets us through our short-term struggles. It’s why 1 Cor 13 says hope won’t last: One day, God will fulfill all of the expectations he has given us.
When Christians lose sight of the big picture of God working in our lives, and in our world we will also lose the perseverance we need to reach the fulfillment of those expectations. When we allow wishes to replace hope we dilute our faith and diminish our intimacy with God. In Christ, God has given us every reason to have confidence in his promises and love for us. He wants us to live confident, not wishful, lives.
In closing, consider this statement from Hebrews 3:14 “We are partners with Christ, but only if we hold on to the confidence we had in the beginning until the end.” May hope inspire the endurance you need to complete your journey to God.
- Do you find it difficult to think of “hope” as a term of confidence rather than wishfulness?
- Is your perseverance inspired more by “hope” or “duty”?
- What do you think of the suggestion that “endurance” and “hope” are somewhat interchangeable”?