Am I All In?

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)

The Bible study group was studying Philippians, and on this particular day we were discussing verse 1:21. We were asked if we would fill in the blank in “For to me, to live is ____________” the same way Paul did. Hmmm, I had to do some soul-searching. Could I honestly say that for me, to live is Christ? At that moment, the best answer I could muster was “maybe”.

Though I turned my life over to God nearly 20 years ago, my Christian walk has been characterized by a series of surrenders to the Lord and a relationship that continues to deepen and grow stronger with each passing day. Still, when the rubber meets the road, am I all in?

Scripture details several accounts of people who were “all in” whatever the cost. A particularly striking example of a life completely devoted to Jesus exists in Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha. While Jesus was reclining at a dinner given in His honor, Mary poured a jar of very expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet. The amount of fragrant ointment Mary used was equivalent to a year’s wages (John 12:1-11). Mary clearly demonstrated that offering what she had to honor the Lord meant more to her than financial security. How does my attitude toward my King compare to Mary’s? Would I be willing to give my entire annual salary to the Lord without any financial plan B?

When Jesus called his first four disciples – Simon called Peter, Peter’s brother Andrew, James son of Zebedee and his brother John – they not only followed Jesus, but they did so “at once” and “immediately”:

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22; emphasis mine)

Matthew, gospel writer and disciple, also completely abandoned his previous lifestyle and gave his life to Jesus with no way of turning back if it didn’t work out. Prior to following Jesus, Matthew earned his living as a tax collector. The Romans had appointed him, and for this reason as well as because the tax-collectors were notorious for overcharging the people and keeping the profits, Matthew was neither a respected nor an accepted member of society. He probably didn’t consider himself worthy to be one of the Lord’s right hand men, yet when Jesus saw Matthew “sitting at the tax collector’s booth” he told Matthew to follow him. What was Matthew’s immediate response? He readily abandoned his lucrative career, got up and followed Jesus:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. (Matthew 9:9b)

It sounds so simple! Jesus says “follow me”, and regular people like Matthew and the disciples Peter, Andrew, James and John drop whatever they’re doing and give up everything at once to serve with Him. Would I do the same?

For me personally, I don’t believe the lesson here is that Jesus wants me to give up all that I have and all that I’m doing in my life, though that may be the case for some and it may be the case for me at some point. The important truth I take from these accounts is that there is nothing in my life that should hold more value to me than following Jesus – not my job, my possessions, not anything. As my faith in God grows and deepens, and as I nurture my relationship with the Lord, the more I feel better able to honestly agree with Paul: “For to me, to live IS Christ” (Philippians 1:21). I’m all in! But I need to exercise vigilance to ensure that nothing else creeps up to try and take the place that’s reserved only for God.

The accounts of Jesus’ followers leaving everything to devote their lives to Him convicts and challenges me. Some people are comfortable with risk, but I tend to value security and routine. Being a Valiant Warrior, however, means giving up worldly security. Recall the Apostle Paul’s words:

No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. (2 Timothy 2:4)

What about you, Warrior? Are you prepared to follow your Heavenly Commander-in-Chief no matter the cost? Are you all in?

Matthew West’s song “The Motions” says it all. Enjoy!

Who is in the Battle with You?

Who is in the battle with you imageThere is nothing like a tragedy in our lives to reveal who really cares about us and who we can depend on. When I hit bottom with depression and subsequently got sick, I was too tired to participate in all of the activities I was previously involved in. Therefore, I wasn’t attending events where I would regularly touch base with many of the people in my life at the time. This change alone eliminated many relationships, but I accepted it because many of those friendships were largely superficial anyway. It became clear that I would only have energy to devote to the most important and cherished people in my life, and this presented some difficulty. I was scared to let go of many people, but I had read in a book about living with Fibromyalgia that the people that really matter and who are supposed to be in your life will stick around and put in the effort it takes to stay close.

God is so good and faithful to give us what we need when we need it! When my husband and I first started attending our current church after many years at our previous church, I have to admit I had a very difficult time making the transition. My husband Chris was welcomed into the community of men with open arms while I stood by feeling like an outsider. Chris was asked to be an elder, and I saw myself as an invisible passenger just along for the ride. The elders-to-be attended monthly meetings, and the men were asked to bring their wives. At one of the meetings, our pastor asked me not to leave before the group could pray for me. As the meeting drew to a close and the group asked for prayer requests, my pastor brought up my health situation. Everyone then gathered around me and laid hands on me. One of the elders anointed me with oil, and the group prayed over me. After that, my attitude toward the church completely changed. The love of Christ as shown through the actions of others won me over! I have since become friends with a few of the elders’ wives, and I treasure our shared faith and that we pray for each other.

Over the years, it’s also been a blessing to have a Bible study group that cares about me and knows what’s going on in my life. I need the support of fellow believers to help me through my battles. It’s also an honor for me to be there for others both in their times of sorrow and in their joys. The Bible teaches that confession and prayer with other believers has healing power. In addition, we remain accountable by praying for one another and sharing where we are in our faith journey. There is power in the prayers of true believers praying for each other:

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up.

If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:13-16)

Scripture also encourages us to meet together regularly, as the church needs its members to lift one another up and keep each other from falling into sin:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Furthermore, Scripture declares that believers are much stronger together than they are on their own:

Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
    But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

The Bible cautions us to choose who we will walk through life with carefully. It’s important to search for people who are wise, who will offer us love and support and who will help us grow in our relationship with God:

Walk with the wise and become wise,
    for a companion of fools suffers harm. (Proverbs 13:20)

Fellow Warriors, may we take comfort in knowing we are not in the battle all by ourselves, but rather that we are all in this together. Let us both receive and give Jesus’ love for us through one another. I pray that our hearts would be open to share the amazing gift of fellowship with another lost, lonely and battle-weary soul who may desperately need to experience God’s love today.

Enjoy “No Man is an Island” by Tenth Avenue North!

Complete Dependence

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
(Psalm 121: New International Version)

When my Fibromyalgia pain was at its worst, even normal everyday tasks were a struggle. When making dinner and washing dishes, pain would shoot down my neck, arms and back. I was so weak that my arms became sore just from washing my hair. Perhaps the most difficult challenge presented itself when my six-year-old son wanted me to play and participate in activities with him.

One evening after dinner, he wanted me to put on a play with him, and all I desperately wanted to do was to get in bed. Fear of the future rose up in me as I considered the coming week’s schedule: Teacher conferences meant his school would have all half days. How was I going to keep up with him during those extra hours? After all, I was still paying the price for the play date we had the previous day – pushing his bike up and down the hill to and from the park and walking with all of the kids through the trench among the brush in the hills that back up to the park exhausted me.

The anxiety and, I must admit, dread of the coming week and its schedule of activities – going to the kid’s museum, the loud and smelly trampoline park, etc. – had me briefly considering the afterschool childcare program. Where was I going to get the necessary energy to do these stressful things I didn’t want to do and that prevented me from resting? Despite my concerns, I quickly dismissed the afterschool childcare option because I wanted to be with my son regardless of how I felt, and I didn’t want to miss out on any of the precious and fleeting time I get with him. I just wanted to have the physical strength and energy to be my best self for him.

At some point in every Christian’s walk with God, the Lord allows trials in which we have no choice but to depend completely on Him. “One day at a time” is a well-known expression in recovery. The slogan has become near and dear to my heart as it reminds me that God will provide for my needs as they come. Worrying about whether He will provide for me and give me the strength I need a week from now just isn’t a good use of my time. After all, the Lord’s Prayer does say to “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11: English Standard Version: emphasis mine).

Having to depend on God is humbling. Personally, I would prefer that God remove whatever the problem is rather than have to rely on Him to overcome it. “Please remove this pain!” I might pray. “Take away this depression!” I may plead. And sometimes it is the Lord’s will to take away our problems. Other times, however, He is using them to accomplish a purpose. For example, the Apostle Paul was given a “thorn in his flesh” to keep him from becoming conceited. Paul implored with God three times to remove it, but instead God said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). God can use our weaknesses and our struggles to teach us about His grace and how His power rather than our own accomplishes great things in our lives.

Scripture provides contrasting accounts of those who did not depend on God and were defeated and those who achieved victory because of their complete dependence on the Lord. In Deuteronomy, Moses recounts the Israelites’ rebellion against God’s command. The Lord had instructed the Israelites to take possession of the Promised Land, but when they reached Kadesh Barnea, just south of the land God told them to conquer and occupy, the Israelites hesitated. They were unwilling to proceed after they heard reports about fortified cities with walls as high as 30 feet, imposing fortresses and giant Anakites who may have been 7-9 feet tall (Deuteronomy 1:28: NIV Life Application Study Bible notes). Even though Moses assured the Israelites that the Lord would see them through and give them victory, the people would not go up and take possession of the land (Deuteronomy 1:29-32). Because the Israelites disobeyed God rather than depend on Him, their entire generation was banned from entering the Promised Land, and they spent the next 40 years wandering the desert (Numbers 13, 14).

A much happier outcome resulted for Asa, King of Judah. Because of his complete dependence on God, Asa’s army achieved victory despite being vastly outnumbered by the Cushites. When Asa went out to meet Zerah the Cushite’s large army, he recognized his powerlessness and his inability to obtain victory without the Lord’s help:

Then Asa called to the Lord his God and said, “Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. Lord, you are our God; do not let mere mortals prevail against you.”

 The Lord struck down the Cushites before Asa and Judah. The Cushites fled, and Asa and his army pursued them as far as Gerar. Such a great number of Cushites fell that they could not recover; they were crushed before the Lord and his forces. (2 Chronicles 4:11-13; emphasis mine)

Asa prevailed when he focused on God’s power and not on his own.

It’s easy to be like the Israelites and see the giants, the impenetrable high walls and the obstacles in my personal path to obedience. Even though my health has improved and doing daily tasks isn’t as difficult as it once was, I can still become overwhelmed by insecurity, fatigue, discouragement, lack of time, money and energy, and my own ego. But when I fix my eyes on Jesus, He gives me the strength to do whatever He calls me to do.

Mighty warrior, I pray that we would recognize that the battle is not ours but the Lord’s (2 Chronicles 20:15). God will certainly help us accomplish any task He has called us to. When we feel threatened by the might of the vast armies coming against us in this life, may we pray like King Jehoshaphat, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20:12b). Then may we “take up [our] positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give [us]” (2 Chronicles 20:17), for the battle is not ours, but God’s.

Enjoy Matthew West’s song describing how we need God’s strength!

Reference:
NIV Life Application Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011. Print.