sacrificing self sufficiency

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3

Today, what has the potential to keep you from relying on God? Business? Success? Skill? Regret? Shame? What can you do to keep the myth of self sufficiency from stealing your faith?

How do I know when I’ve ignored God’s Word?

And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time. (Luke 1:20)

Let’s start with the obvious. In this narrative, we see some very tangible and unusual consequences for not believing God’s words.

Most consequences for disobedience (ignoring God) are simple cause and effect, easily predictable. Choose to lust and you’ll ruin your attitude towards the opposite sex. Choose to gossip and you’ll never really connect with others and eventually be known as untrustworthy. Choose to not believe God and you’ll live by your own power and be distanced from God.

Back to this narrative. Reading it makes me wonder if I’ve blatantly ignored God’s voice and have suffered unusual consequences. I remember learning this principle for interpretation in school: “narrative isn’t normative.” An event in history isn’t an eternal principle that applies to every context.

After all, Jesus once fell asleep on a cushion on a boat (Mark 4:38), does that mean we must always do the same when we are on a boat? Maybe we’re supposed to only do this when we are on a boat while in a storm…

Certainly we can learn from this event: I don’t want the same mistake he did!

The words he didn’t believe were words about the future, a future that was hard to accept… but if it was easy to believe, God wouldn’t have sent an angel.

For Zachariah, the angel left no question about the following: (a) what would happen (silence), (b) why it happened (unbelief), and (c) how long it would last (until the original words came true).

Finally, the words he didn’t believe came to him in a spectacular way. Holy Smokes (literally), an angel appeared to him while he in the Holy of Holies!

After looking a little deeper at this event, I don’t think anything like this has happened to me…although I know I’ve definitely ignored God too many times in the past! To be sure, when God speaks, I want to respond with, “SPEAK LORD, YOUR SERVANT IS LISTENING.”

BIBLE STUDY DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

When you clearly hear from God, and it’s not what you are expecting, what is your first response? When was the last time you were told what you didn’t want to hear?

How do you normally hear God speak? How do you know what he wants?

How many of your daily decisions–both small and large–are influenced by what God wants?

Rest for the Weary

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

Jesus calls us to be yoked with him. This is a continuous call. Especially important for for those of us who are like Martha, and choose to work too much rather than sit with the Master.

There is no doubt: we were created for good works … but not at the expense of rest. The call to Sabbath and be with God is clear, but is also often ignored.

BIBLE STUDY DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
What makes you most weary and burdened? Where is most of your energy going?
What attitudes and mindsets keep you from coming to Jesus? What are your self imposed barriers?
Lately, what have you been learning from Jesus?
Are you more humble than you were a year ago, or has your overwork led to pride and a self-sufficiency?
What would it take for the following words and phrases to describe your soul? rested, yoked with Jesus, learning from him, burdened lightly

Choosing contentment

But godliness with contentment is great gain. (1 Timothy 6:6)

Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. (Exodus 34:14)

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalms 37:4)

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)

What’s the opposite of being content? What effect does the lack of contentment have on a person’s soul? According to scripture, it is a great loss.

I have seen both the rich and the poor have problems being content. Contentment is obviously not a matter of spending power, nor how much we own.

True contentment comes only when we become more like God, when we deny ourselves and pursue the unique design he has created for us. This is the pursuit of godliness.

Denying ourselves doesn’t equate to never wanting, because God wants. In fact, his want is so powerful, one of his names is Jealous. What kind of jealously can possibly be good? For God, he’s wanting that which rightfully belongs to him–our hearts–and he doesn’t want our hearts to be divided.

When we want the things that God has given and provided. When we shape our delight to find first joy in God, our other desires become appropriately subordinated. When we seek first the kingdom of God, worrying about lesser concerns won’t consume our attention.

When we want the things we can never have, we become discontent.
When we want the things we can’t yet have, we become discontent.
When we want the things God has provided, we are living in the “great gain” of godliness with contentment.

Contentment is more than satisfaction. Satisfaction says, “I’ll be happy with what I have.” Contentment says, “I’m happy because this is God’s provision in my life.”

BIBLE STUDY DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
When do you struggle most with contentment? How has a lack of contentment driven you?
Do you ever feel guilty for the stuff that you do have? Where do you think this guilt comes from? What needs to change?
Make a list of ten things for which you are thankful to God for.

broken or crushed

Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed. (Luke 20:18)

The stone is Jesus. And his use of the words everyone and anyone makes this simple teaching apply to all humans.

This promise from Jesus makes it clear that we have a choice, to either be broken by Jesus, or crushed by him.

Faith in Jesus–God’s only Son, the one who died for the sins of the world and defeated death– means surrender. When we enter his family, we lay down our rebellion, we must break open our hard hearts and shatter our towering egos. The other option is to be crushed, to spend eternity without him.

The experience of surrender is on-going. Every one who has followed Jesus for a significant amount of time can tell you the many stories of their surrender. To be mature is to be repeatedly broken and humbled before Jesus.

It is easy to forget this, especially once we take a few steps of faith and begin to see the fruits of our obedience. We are quick to take back credit from God. Success often takes us off our knees. In the beginning, it is slow. We compare our strength to the weakness of others. In the times that we are weak, we make excuses, rationalizing our disobedience. Ultimately, we stop glorifying God. We rarely confess our sins, and with this mindset, we stop trusting in God for strength and guidance. At this point in the journey, we are able to fake an outward appearance of spirituality. And while we may be praised by others, we quietly know the truth. Self sufficiency leads to great emptiness.

We must watch our lives closely, always ready to surrender the next thing to be broken and not crushed by Jesus.

BIBLE STUDY DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
What was it like, the first time you were broken by Jesus? When was the last time you were surrendered, has it been too long?
When do you compare yourself to others so that your own life looks good?
When was the last time you struggled in your faith, the kind of struggle with God that you lost?
How well can you fake your faith to others? With whom can you be real and authentic and share your struggles?