In Matthew 9, Jesus was at the home of Matthew eating with some unsavory people. The top religious leaders saw him dining with them and asked, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” (NLT) They asked it loud enough that Jesus heard them, which meant that Matthew and his friends heard it too. Jesus said, “Heathy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do.” Then he challenged them to go and find the meaning of the scripture that says, “I desire mercy [that is, readiness to help those in trouble] and not sacrifice and sacrificial victims. For I came not to call and invite [to repentance] the righteous (those who are upright and in right standing with God), but sinners (the erring ones and all those not free from sin)” (AMP).
I figured if Jesus wanted them to find the meaning, He probably wanted us to find the meaning as well. The original passage is found in Hosea 6:6. It says, “I want your constant love, not your animal sacrifices. I would rather have my people know me than burn offerings to me” (GNB). The first thing God wants from any of us is an unconditional, constant love. A couple of verses back, He says that His children’s love vanishes as quickly as the morning dew. The kind of love that irritates God is the conditional kind that depends on what He does.
God loves you no matter what you do, and He expects the same. Jesus was upset with the Pharisees because they claimed to be the holy ones in Israel, but inside they were anything but holy. When His actions didn’t meet up with their expectations of the Messiah, their love and wonder waned. What Jesus was pointing out to them in the Scripture He sent them to was that they really didn’t know God, and He would rather they know Him instead of knowing what the Law said.
We have to be careful of the same trap they fell into. We cannot let our love for God depend on expectations we have of Him when we don’t fully know Him. God knows that the more we know Him, the more we love Him. The more we love Him, the more we will have a readiness to help those in spiritual danger. They are the ones who need our help the most. Jesus knew it, and He wanted us to know it too. The heart of God beats for the lost, and He’ll do what it takes to reach them, even if it doesn’t make sense to others. When we truly know Him, our heart will beat for the lost like His.
There are two things I find I need most often: strength and peace. There have been so many times I cry out to God, “I can’t do this on my own anymore. I don’t have the strength to go any further.” I always wonder if God gets impatient with me in those times. I wonder if he says, “Again? When will you learn?” I know that the joy of the Lord is my strength, but I somehow allow my situation to steal that joy which leaves me weak and vulnerable.
David must have felt this way pretty often as well. When I read the Psalms, they don’t always line up with this bad to the bone warrior I’ve built up in my mind. They often show an insecure person who struggles with his situations. It’s in conflict with the mental image I have of him, but the truth is, they show someone just as human as the rest of us. They show an accomplished person who loves God, but still relies on Him for everything.
I like being a self sufficient person. I like not needing to have to have help, but those are not qualities God admires. David was known as a man after God’s own heart. He was a man who wasn’t afraid to cry out to God for help all the time. The things that I think make him appear weak are the things God finds as strengths. We were not made to fight our battles on our own. We were not made to fight alone. We were not made to be self sufficient. We are to find our strength and sufficiency in Him.
In Psalm 29, David talks about how powerful the voice of the Lord is. He writes great acclamations of God, and then he finishes with a truth that is very relevant to us. In verse 11 he says, “The LORD gives his people strength. The LORD blesses them with peace” (NLT). Strength and peace are gifts from God. To act like we don’t need them is to deny God from giving them to us as blessings. David had it right. We need God’s strength and peace more than we care to admit. If we are willing to get over our pride and to ask Him for them, He is willing to give them to us.
Since I was a child, I have heard the story of King Saul in I Samuel 13. The army of Israel had won a small skirmish with a Philistine garrison. The Philistines then mustered an army several times the size of the Israelite army. As they waited for battle, fear crept into the Israelite camp. Men began to desert the army. Those that remained were visibly afraid. Saul looked around, saw their fear, and then checked the calendar. Where was the prophet Samuel? He had said he would be there by now.
As he watched more troops leave, he decided decisive action is what was needed to keep the troops. Verse 9 says, “So he demanded, “Bring me the burnt offering and the peace offerings!” And Saul sacrificed the burnt offering himself” (NLT). Wouldn’t you know that as soon as he finished with the burnt offerings, Samuel showed up. Saul realized that he jumped the gun. He ran to Samuel hoping to smooth things over, but Samuel wouldn’t hear it. He explained what a foolish thing he had done, and now God would take the kingship from him.
For me, this story is a reminder to stay patient when doing what God asks. If we let our circumstances dictate our obedience, we will fail and miss out on the blessings of God. It’s hard enough to stay obedient when God is silent, let alone when your circumstances show your obedience isn’t paying off. The easy thing to do is make assumptions, but assumptions often lead to disobedience. If God asked you to do something, you must keep at it until He says, “Stop.”
I Samuel 15:22 says, “But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.” Whatever God has called you to do, obedience to that calling is most important. Your calling may seem small and insignificant. It may lack the spotlight that you want, but it is a valid calling. Don’t ditch it to do something more spiritual. God has you doing exactly what He wants you to until He’s ready to give you more. Stay obedient in the silence and God will reward you in due time.
When I travel to New Orleans, there’s a certain homeless person I like to say hello to. He always makes me smile and he never asks me for anything. He’ll say, “It ain’t gonna cost you nothing to come say hello. I ain’t gonna rob you!” I then walk over and say hello and he puts a smile on my face. Except on a recent trip he called me over and said, “You know I never ask for nothing, but could you go in there and buy me an orange juice and sandwich? I’m about to curl up on my cardboard and I’m hungry.”
When I handed him his dinner, he hugged me and thanked me. He then asked, “You know what I’d change about the world?” My mind began to think of any number of answers. No more homelessness. No more hunger. No more devaluing people. No more selfishness. But before I could decide on an answer, he grabbed my shoulder, looked up at the sky, smiled a big toothless grin, and said, “Absolutely nothing!” He laughed, thanked me again and walked away.
I thought about his answer as I walked back to my hotel. Here’s a man, for whatever reason, is sleeping on a cardboard mat on the streets on downtown New Orleans and is exposed to the elements constantly, and he wouldn’t change a thing. Even though he has absolutely nothing to his name, he has found a way to be content. He’s learned to choose joy instead of bitterness over his situation. It’s a lesson we all could learn.
Paul learned that secret and told us about it in Philippians 4:12. He said, “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little” (NLT). That secret is choosing the joy of contentment with where God has you. That joy gives us the strength to endure whatever comes our way. It takes us from being a victim of life to a victor over our situation. Don’t try to change your world. Change your attitude. The next verse tells us we can. “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”
Life is unpredictable. It’s full of uncertainties, crossroads, and unknowns. When we are facing these things in life, our minds get consumed looking for answers and wondering what tomorrow holds. It can suck the energy right out of you if you let it. I think that’s why Jesus told us in Matthew 6:34, “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries” (NLT). He knew that with all of life’s uncertainties, we could easily get wrapped up in all the what if’s of life.
The truth is that even though you and I don’t know what tomorrow holds, God does. And He’s not worried. What is unknown to us is history to Him. He knows how it all plays out and He is in control. No matter what each day brings, we can trust that He has a plan for our lives and a path for us to walk down. Psalm 37:23 says, “The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.” Not only does He direct our lives, He knows all the details that are unknown to us.
Trusting Him in those times is paramount to our peace of mind. Where worry consumes us, His peace frees us. We get peace in uncertainty when we trust that God is in control, that He has a plan for this time, and that He is directing our path. Stress and worry come from thinking we are in control, that God doesn’t care, or that He doesn’t have a plan. He gives you and I the ability to choose in this situation. Do we want to stress or do we want peace through trust?
I’m reminded of Proverbs 3:5-6 when it comes to trusting God in uncertainty. It says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Never rely on what you think you know. Remember the Lord in everything you do, and he will show you the right way” (GNB). The word “trust”, in the original language, means to feel safe, be careless. In our most difficult times, we can feel safe and be carefree by trusting God. He will direct our path and show us the right way when the time is right.
I love the idea of paying it forward. I always smile when I read a post on Facebook that is thanking an unknown person for buying their coffee or lunch. I think those actions and posts inspire others to do similar things for other people. At work, I challenge new employees to do one thing for someone else each day. It can be as little a gesture as opening a door from them to letting them go first in the check out line to buying their lunch to wherever their mind leads them. The point is to train them to open their eyes to the needs of others.
Human nature has always look inward rather than outward. To break that habit and to begin looking to the needs of others, you have to challenge yourself to look up from your own life. Each of us have enough things going on in our lives that make us too busy, too poor, and too blinded to help others. We have excuses lined up as to why we don’t have the time or resources to help someone out.
The truth is, that simple gestures, like opening the door for someone, cost you no money or time. They are things you can easily do, but make a difference in others. Do you remember the Golden Rule? “Do for others what you want them to do for you” (Matt 7:12 GNB). If it’s a gesture you would appreciate, then do it for someone else first. Pay it forward so that you begin the chain reaction of people doing something good for someone else. The Golden Rule is a simple concept really, but it requires us to think beyond ourselves and to be the initiator in positive actions.
Decades after Jesus taught the Golden Rule, Paul was writing to Titus, a leader in the church, about the behaviors Christians should exhibit. In chapter 3 verse 8 he says, “I want you to give special emphasis to these matters, so that those who believe in God may be concerned with giving their time to doing good deeds, which are good and useful for everyone.” Doing good for others should be part of the DNA of all believers. It should be our concern to find things to do for others that are both good and useful.
So today, be on the lookout for people who you can do a good deed for. You’ll be surprised at how big a small gesture can be to some people. You’ll feel good in the process and who knows, it may even open up a door to share your faith or to pray for someone. Start today. Begin making an effort to look up from your life and you’ll find that opportunities abound for you to do good deeds for others. It’s an easy and effective way to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a world that desperately needs His presence.
Several years ago, our area was hit by Hurricane Ike. Our electricity was out for over two weeks. Because of the work I do, I had to go to work anyway to help customers. A couple of days after the storm hit, the CEO of this Fortune 15 company flew down here. Each day, he put aside his tie, put on our uniform, and got behind a computer to help customers at one of our stores. When regular customers didn’t recognize him, they’d ask who he was. When he told them, no one believed him. He had to pull out his business card to prove it. Even then, there were skeptics.
To me, that’s a lot like what Jesus did. When the world was dark and powerless, Jesus left Heaven to come to earth to help us. He put aside His Heavenly body to take on the form of a man. He walked among us to help us. Many did not recognize Him nor believe He was who He said He was. When He proved it by doing things only God could do, they were still skeptical. Even though there were doubters, He continued to do the work that He was sent to do
Philippians 2:5-8 tells us exactly that, “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (NLT). What it says first is very important. We should have that same attitude.
We should never be above doing any work in the Kingdom. There is no position high enough or level of spiritualness that you can attain where you don’t have to get down in the trenches and serve like everyone else. Jesus was still exhibiting the qualities of a servant the night He was betrayed to do what He came to do. He made it clear He was the Messiah, the Son of God, and yet He served others. John 13:4 says, “So He got up from the supper table, set aside His robe, and put on an apron” (MSG). He took off the robe that signified His greatness and position, to put on what the lowest ranking person wears in order to serve.
Christianity is not about becoming a great and powerful leader. It’s about becoming an humble servant. It’s following the example of the One who gave up all authority in Heaven and earth to wash the feet of others. It’s about meeting people where they are so they can see what God’s love is like. If the CEO of Heaven took off His robe to put on an apron and serve, we should put aside our pride and follow His example of serving others. Wearing the apron was an outward example of the position of His heart. If you feel you’re above putting on the apron of humility, pray that God would give you the same attitude Christ Jesus had.
One of the things I firmly believe is that changed lives change lives. The greater work that God does in someone’s life, the greater the desire is to tell others. In Luke 7, Jesus was eating at the house of a religious leader. A woman in town, who had lived a sinful life, heard that Jesus was there. She grabbed an alabaster jar of oil and went to see Him. When she came into the house, she began to weep. She then bowed at His feet and wiped the tears off of them with her hair. She then poured the perfume on them as everyone in the house just watched.
The religious leader began to doubt who Jesus was. Luke 7:39 says, “When the Pharisee saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man really were a prophet, he would know who this woman is who is touching him; he would know what kind of sinful life she lives!’” (GNB). Jesus spoke up and offered a situation to him. He told of two men who owed the same person money. One person owed 500 and the other 50. Neither had the ability to pay off their debt. The debtor forgave both debts. Then Jesus asked, “Which one, then, will love him more?”
Jesus’ point was that those who are forgiven of more sins, love Him more. Those who experience a greater change in their lives show more gratitude. They had a bigger debt that was canceled than those who were raised in church and never lived a life full of sin. Both types of lives are changed when they receive Jesus as their savior and both have an obligation from that point on to help lead others to the One who can change lives. He more change we experience at salvation, the more we are compelled by love to help others.
To demonstrate this, Jesus then showed a comparison between this woman’s actions and the religious leader’s actions. He told how the religious leader hasn’t provided water to wash Jesus’ feet, but this woman hasn’t stopped washing them with her tears. He also didn’t greet Jesus with a kiss, and this woman hasn’t stopped kissing Him. Then in Luke 7:47, Jesus said, “I tell you, then, the great love she has shown proves that her many sins have been forgiven. But whoever has been forgiven little shows only a little love.”
The greater the change God makes in your life, the more natural it is for you to want to change other’s lives. The great news is that if you’re a Christian, God has changed your life and you have the ability to now tell others what God has done for you. When you share your story of redemption with others, you open the door for their life to be changed. The more lives that are changed by God’s love, the more people we will have out there changing other people lives. The cycle of change starts with you and me.