Just worry about yourself.

Image result for life is not fair

We live in a relatively narcissistic society.  Everyone is typically out for himself, we work our circumstances for our own best interest and call it human nature.  We naturally focus on ourselves, right?  I was watching a show this weekend with my husband and the narrator joking stated that when a friend has good news we celebrate that good news for a moment and immediately begin evaluating our own circumstances in light of that good news. How will their change affect us?  How do we line up against their newfound success or change?  We can even find ourselves bemoaning their good fortune because we desire the same for ourselves and would prefer others to not experience it before us.

The Bible has much to say about how we should interact with one another.  God has purposefully and intentionally created us for community.  Much has been written and observed about this community:  We as Christians are the body of Christ, we each have specific gifts and abilities that were given for the sake of serving the church (1 Cor 12.12-27), and we should consider one another regularly – putting each other before ourselves and pushing one another on to good deeds (Phil 2.3, Heb 10.24).

In response to our natural bent towards comparison and self-righteousness, however, Jesus commands what seems to be the opposite.  Jesus called twelve men to follow after Him.  One of those men denied Him and hung himself, and the remaining eleven plus Paul were those by which God built the Church.  Of these men, there were three with whom Jesus was the closest – they are often referred to as the “inner circle”.  These were Peter, James and John.  Peter is often known as the vocal one and John, who wrote the Gospel of John, is referred to as “the one whom Jesus loved” (John 13.23-25).  During Jesus’ final night before the crucifixion Peter declared his unwavering commitment to Jesus and yet Jesus predicted that Peter would deny Him three times before the sun rose the next morning.  And Peter did exactly that (Matt 26.34).

Peter felt extremely guilty for denying Christ.  However, unlike Judas, he did not kill himself and was restored by Jesus.  Jesus met the disciples on the beach and had a one-on-one conversation with Peter to restore and forgive him.  Three times Jesus asked Peter “Do you love me?” and Peter stated that he did.  Jesus commanded Peter to feed and care for the Church (John 21.15-17).  He then prophesied that Peter would die a martyr’s death.  In the very same breath, Peter turned around and saw John walking behind them on the beach and asked Jesus “What about him?”  Jesus’ response was simple and profound:

“Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?  You follow Me!’”

– John 21.22

Jesus actually said, “What is that to you?”  Peter, do not waste your time or energy worrying about John.  You just follow me.  Do what I have told you to do, focus on what I have taught you, and let me worry about John.

It sounds very much like a father disciplining a child, does it not?  “I will take care of your sister, you just do what I have told you”.  And when does this chastisement typically come?  When the child has cried out “That’s not fair!”  or “Why do I have to and she does not?”  A parent never has to discipline a child to focus on his own task and forget a sibling’s when the child feels he has been shown favor, it is when he feels he has been slighted and the sibling is receiving an extra benefit.

And even as adults we do that with God.  We compare ourselves to one another.  We wonder why so-and-so got the promotion, was born into a wealthy family, was given extra comforts or abilities that we were not.  We tell God that it is not fair and we gripe about our lowly circumstances when we feel slighted.  And Jesus simply says to us, worry about yourself.  He has a purpose and a plan for so-and-so, just like He has for each one of us and we need only to trust Him in His plan for us.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

– Rom 8.28

Each one of us has a unique personality, and unique personal disposition and unique Spiritual abilities and gifts.  God has purposefully and perfectly established a plan that will bring about our Spiritual maturity and Spiritual best in His timing and in His way.  He does place us in in community so that we can push one another on to maturity and to know and love God, but He also teaches us not to compare ourselves to one another.

Life is not fair.  God never intended it to be.  He intends for us to trust Him and His perfect plan for our own lives, and to rejoice with one another in successes, blessings and abilities.  So, in the words of all of our mothers, “you just worry about you” when you are concerned that you are being overworked or given the short straw.  God has a plan.  God is in control.  He is working your circumstances out for your best and His glory.  He is working my circumstances out for my best and my glory.  And while it may appear that so-and-so is getting special treatment, remember that we do not know the full story and God’s plan is bigger than anything we can imagine.

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Will finding your calling solve it all?

come to me

There is a lot of talk these days about fulfillment and purpose.  We have been asked since childhood, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and high school guidance counselors help us set life goals and pick the best college for our dreams.  Many of us change[d] our majors in college at least once, and upon graduating have no job or or even dream job in mind.  We have been told that we can be whatever we want to be, we have idolized world changers, and we have been given inflated grades and false awards – thus believing ourselves to be extremely important and valuable.  Therefore, when all we can find is entry-level work and are expected to do unpleasant duties at an even more unpleasant payout, we are frustrated.

Multilevel marketing plans and self-entrepreneurialism have exploded in the last few years for just this reason.  We want to make our own hours, be our own bosses, and determine our own success!  We think this freedom and quick success will make us happy.

We also spiritualize the dilemma.  What does God have for my life?  If I could just find my calling, then I would be happy and fulfilled.

But the reality is, this is a symptom of a bigger problem:  we are looking for something other than God to satisfy and fulfill us.  Jesus promises us:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

– Matt 11.28

He also teaches us,

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

– John 14.6

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

– John 10.10

Jesus Himself is the way.  He does not promise to show us the way to God, or to joy, or to life, He Himself is the way.  He came so that we may have life and so that we may have abundant, full life.  And everyone who comes to Him will find rest.  If we approach Jesus as a means to an end, we have completely missed the boat.  He is the end.  Loving Him.  Glorifying Him.  Exalting Him.  Serving Him.  Resting in Him.  Enjoying Him.  By abiding in Him, our lives have purpose and joy and peace – even in the midst of sorrow, tragedy and difficulty.

Jesus plus anything is nothing.  Jesus does not offer us salvation and freedom from sin in order to help us have a good life or point us on to some extra calling or greater destiny.  Jesus is our calling and destiny.  If we want to use Him to get a better life, we have not only missed the point, but we have robbed the Gospel of its beauty and joy.  Jesus + anything = not the Gospel.  This is why Paul adamantly teaches,

“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!  As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”

– Gal 1.8-9

So what, then, is a life calling?  How then do we know what God would have us to do for a job, in our day-t0-days?  What does this mean practically?

First and foremost, this gives us a great freedom that is terrifying to some.  We are taught that not only is it possible, but we should strive to glorify God in everything that we do:  eating, drinking, working, playing, everything:

“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

– 1 Cor 10.31

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.”

– Col 3.23

We will find our satisfaction and contentment in our relationship with God, not in what exactly we are doing.  We can do mundane jobs to the glory of God.  If we find our pleasure in Him, then the job will become nothing more than an act of service to Him and we will not be left feeling empty.  The exhortation Paul gives is in the context of telling slaves to honor their masters and to do their duty as slaves as unto God.  He is speaking to people in much worse situations that most of us find ourselves.

Secondly, there are also special giftings that God gives for the sake of the church:

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.  And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord.  There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.  But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

– 1 Cor 12.4-7

God enables people in each church body to meet the present needs and to serve one another all to His glory.  We are not given gifts for our own personal benefit, and we are not called to a role in ministry for success, fame or the job.  God is seeking the best of the Church and thus chooses to utilize us.  We cannot be selfish or selective with how we utilize the abilities and gifts he has given us.  There will be times that someone is given the gift of teaching and wisdom, yet the Church body is unable to support him financially – thus he will need to work a job outside of the Church while he utilizes his gift of teaching.  Most giftings are expected to be utilized in the Church without any financial return or even recognition.  This is good and right, as our goal should be to glorify God by utilizing the skills He has given us by serving one another.

Thirdly, we have all been given the same, great calling:

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

– Matt 28.18-20

Jesus has given us all the same, great commandment.  No one is exempt from this commandment.  It was His final words, His closing command, what has now become known as the “Great Commission”.  We are all commissioned to make disciples.   We will all do that in different ways.  Some of us will leave home and country, to teach people of a different tribe, tongue and nation to know, love and obey Jesus.  Some of us will work jobs in the normal workforce, teaching our coworkers and business partners to know, love and obey Jesus.  Some of us will be stay at home moms teaching our kids to know, love and obey Jesus.

We will only find satisfaction and joy in Jesus Himself.  He has given us a single commandment:  to make disciples by teaching others to know, love and obey Him.  Within those two confines, everything else is personally adaptable, such that the command can clearly be stated:  whatever you do, do your work heartily unto God – and whether you eat or drink do all to the glory of God.  He may give us special giftings and a unique vision to spearhead a new and unique movement or ministry.  He may also place us at a secretarial desk or in the medical field, business world or in service.  Any job can and should be done to His gory and honor – and when it is done so, we will be fulfilled.  Not because of the job itself, but because of the relationship and pleasure found in God.

Lastly, you might find that you have been given a passion for God and disciple making and gifted with a unique skill set that would lend you to the pastorate, missions, or what church people call “vocational ministry”.  It is not wrong to pursue these kinds of jobs or positions, but if God sees fit to keep you in a non-church type job for a while, or asks us to utilize those gifts in the Church without compensation and thus needing to work another job, let us do so joyfully and as unto the Lord.

What is your calling?  You are called to know and love Jesus Christ, and to do everything unto His glory and honor.  Let us seek to find our joy and satisfaction in Him alone, and not in our personal vocation or phase of life.  We have all been sent out to make disciples wherever we are, and in whatever job or life circumstance we find ourselves.  If we are left feeling empty and unfulfilled in our day to day, before we start questioning our vocation, let us start examining our relationship with God.

God Did Not Create Us For Comfort Zones: The Danger and Beauty of Spiritual Gift Inventories

comfort zone

“Do you know what your Spiritual gift is?”  This is a pretty normal question in Christian circles.  Scripture lists a variety of ways that people can be gifted and so we have developed tests that help people understand how they are wired and inventory their gifting.  It is a churchey personality test, in many ways.  Some churches require would-be members to take a test to determine each person’s gift in order to help plug them into ministry quickly.  Some small groups take the inventory test to help each other get to know one another and develop roles.  Some people are curious and take a test just to find out.

These tests can be extremely beneficial or detrimentally harmful.

There are three predominant passages that people turn to when discussing Spiritual gifts:

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.  And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord.  There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.  But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.  But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”

 – 1 Cor 12.4-11

“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.  For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”

 – Rom 12.3-8

“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”

 – Eph 4.11-13

These are the gits derived from these passages:

  • Prophecy
  • Serving
  • Teaching
  • Exhortation
  • Giving
  • Leadership
  • Mercy
  • Word of wisdom
  • Word of knowledge
  • Faith
  • Gifts of healings
  • Miracles
  • Prophecy
  • Distinguishing between spirits
  • Tongues
  • Interpretation of tongues
  • Apostle
  • Prophet
  • Teacher
  • Miracles
  • Kinds of healings
  • Helps
  • Administration
  • Tongues
  • Apostle
  • Prophet
  • Evangelist
  • Pastor
  • Teacher

Being the logical and methodical people that we are, we desire to itemize these gifts and identify them in one another so that we can plug people into ministry and service.  This is a very good thing!  If a person is new to the faith, or new to a church, he may not yet know what his strengths and passions are, and he may be lost as to where best he can be used.  Our methodology is similar to a guidance counselor helping a student choose what to study in college, or a placement officer helping someone find a job and career that meets his skill set and strengths.

It is clear when reading through this list that there are some gifts that are not for everyone, too.  Not everyone is an apostle, for example.  In fact, we understand that apostles – in the fullest sense – were those twelve who were chosen and appointed by Jesus.  The office of apostle is no longer filled, as there are no longer any living who walked with Jesus and were sent out by Him.  The term apostle, however, literally translates as “sent out one”, and we do indeed send people out to the mission field and to plant churches.  Not everyone will be sent out.  Not every one will be a teacher.  Not everyone will have the gift of speaking in tongues.  Thus it is helpful to discern our giftings and abilities so that we can serve the body.

But the danger in the Spiritual gift inventory is threefold.  Firstly, it encourages complacency.  Imagine if someone had asked you what you wanted to be or given you a test to determine your personality and strengths when you were eight years old.  As a third grader, they determined that you are not a leader or teacher but that you had a scientific mind and thus determined that you should pursue science, possibly medicine.  You then were locked into that destiny and had no option to change.  But what happens when you get halfway through med school and realize this is not what you want for your life at all?  China has such a system and while some flourish, being considered valuable either in academics, athletics, or a specialized training, others are determined to be of little use and are sent to schools that will only land them a job to survive.  There is no chance, for such a one, to grow or be successful.

Much in the same way, when we are at any point in our Spiritual walk or development, we might have a particular strength or gifting of the Spirit that is useful at the moment, but the Spirit gifts us for the service of the Church.  Our giftings and abilities are not given for our own personal benefit but to minister to the body and believers around us.  Notice in all three passages that theme:

1 Corinthians:
But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

Romans:
        For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

Ephesians:
        And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

It goes without saying that the needs of the body are fluid.  The needs of your local church will be different one year form now than they are right now.  But if we have identified ourselves and our “gifts” rigidly, then we will be incapable of adjusting and observing the current needs of our body.  One will be pigeonholed and oblivious, thinking, “I am a teacher.  I teach Sunday School.  That is my gift and that is what I do.”  While there might be a need for prayer support, serving the widows or reaching out to the community.  Situations change, people change, and God changes us accordingly.

Secondly it neglects the responsibility of every believer by allowing people to justify the lack of presence of a gift.  Some of the gifts of the Spirit are gifts that we should all have.  Faith, for example, is that by which we are saved.  Some people will be given an extra measure of faith – and God will give all of us the amount of faith we need for each situation we encounter.  Romans teaches us that God has given to every believer a measure of faith – this implies that some get more than others.  But we all have some.  It is by faith we are saved, and the saving faith that we have is a gift from God (Eph 2.8-9).  One might be tempted to think, however, that if his Spiritual gift is service than a lack of faith is understandable and justifiable, because that simply is not his Spiritual gift.  And thus, his growth is stunted.  As believers, we are called to die to ourselves, to trust God fully, and to live lives of faith.  But when we rest in our identity as defined by a Spiritual gift inventory, we will be tempted not to push ourselves and let God change us and use us in ways we never imagined.

Lastly, it pushes God out of the picture.  All Spiritual gifts are from God.  He gives them to us to serve the body, and He gives them to us according to the needs of the body.  But when we inventory ourselves and consider this our Spiritual personality test, then we are left with a black and white dotted line to sign, and we get busy about using the gift we have instead of pursuing God to see where He wants to use us.  There will be times when a need arises that we do not particularly desire to meet.  There will be times when we have to get out of our comfort zones to help or serve.  But plugging people into ministry according to their gifts fosters the exact opposite mindset:  go where it is comfortable and do what you know.

God’s will for us is our sanctification:  becoming more like Jesus (1 Thess 4.3).  This is a continual life of change:  dying to sin, abiding in Jesus, growing in Spiritual maturity, and strengthening the Church.  If the very nature of our salvation is change, then we can expect that our Spiritual giftings and inclinations will change.  Every believer is called to faith, is called to show mercy, is called to love, is called to give, is called to teach (either children, or making disciples one-on-one, or teaching a class or the entire church).  Some will be uniquely gifted to do these things on a grander scale than others, and all of us will be given measures of grace to do these things as they are needed.  The Holy Spirit is not stagnant and He will enable us and use us in a variety of ways throughout our Spiritual lives.  As we grow to be more like Jesus and as we remain in Him, we will develop a dependence on the Spirit.  We will learn to hear His voice and follow His leading.  If we seek Him once to find out what our gifts are, and then isolate ourselves in that one ministry, we will stop growing and we will serve in our own strength.  Thus, it is wise to examine ourselves and where we are with the Lord regularly and ask Him what gifts we have been given, but we must continually be in the presence of Jesus and asking what it is that He has for us to do today.  Because it might not be comfortable.  It might not be our norm.  It might not be what we consider to be our strength.  But God likes to use our weaknesses to glorify Himself, and He will push us on to maturity.

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

 – 1 Cor 12.9

“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.”

– 1 Cor 12.12

What is your disposition?

the narrow parth

Each of us are created with strengths and weakness, and each of us are given different personality types.  Imagine this situation:  You are at a party, and there is a big, beautiful crystal bowl full of jelly bellies on the end of one of the tables.  You are standing there talking to someone and as you use your arm to paint a picture describing your story and your elbow knocks the crystal bowl to the floor and it shatters into a million pieces.  One person runs over and immediately starts scooping up the broken glass and spilled jelly bellies, another reaches over and pats your arm and says, “Don’t worry, it could have happened to anyone!” and the third (probably echoes of your father ringing in your ears) says to you, “You know, you should probably watch what you are doing and be more aware of your surroundings”.

Three perfectly normal responses to the same exact situation.  No one is right, no one is wrong.  The first person is a servant; he sees a need or a problem and wants to help make it better.  The second person is a person of mercy; he sees the shame and embarrassment of the offender and wants to comfort.  The last person is a teacher (or prophet, in Biblical language); he sees the cause of the problem and wants to help the person learn and grow how to not make the same mistake again.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.  And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord.  There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.  But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.  But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.

– 1 Cor 12.4-11

We see that God creates us all with unique personalities and He gives us outpourings of gifts in the Spirit.  Most importantly, we see that He gifts and prepares us differently for the common good (1 Cor 12.7).  When someone breaks a beautiful piece of china, he will be embarrassed and needs to be comforted, the mess needs to be cleaned up, and he needs to learn how to be more aware.  Now, this is a weak example because most of us are aware of our need to not knock over expensive bowls, but in a situation of moral dilemma or sin, the teacher/prophet has a substantial role.  All three dynamics are helpful and necessary for the growth, development and health of the Church.

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

– Eph 4.11-13

All three dispositions have strengths and weaknesses.  The servant is typically not outspoken and can grumble while down on his hands and knees thinking, “Why am I the only one cleaning up this mess?!”  The merciful one can be so concerned about others’ feelings that they excuse sin and hinder moral and Spiritual growth, and the prophet can be oblivious to feelings and deeply shame or hurt someone by only seeing the black and white.

But the three traits can help comfort, teach and serve the body.  We are not created to live in a vacuum.  We are created to help one another along the way, as iron sharpens iron (Prov 27.17).  We are to help one another find the narrow path that few find (Matt 7.13).  And God may give us different gifts and different times.  The gifting and enabling of the Spirit is not static.  Just because you are given mercy to handle one situation does not mean that you are forever only gifted in mercy!  There will and should be times that the Spirit empowers you to be the prophet or humbles you to be the servant.  He enables us and empowers us for the moment.

So let us seek to understand how we are wired.  Let us realize the weaknesses encompassed therein, let us pray for strength against those weaknesses, and let us pray for openness and awareness when the other traits need to be exemplified.  Let us strive to use our gifts, abilities and dispositions to build up the body – the Church – to unity, peace and love.  And let us rejoice in the strengths of our brothers and sisters in Christ.