Sometimes we believe that we can’t give something up because we think it’s such a part of us, something that God’s so clearly given us. It could be some gift, that gives us such life and energy, or it could be a ministry that is such a clear blessing to others.
It seems wrong to forsake or squash these good things because we can’t see how God will take these gifts and re-use them in unimaginable ways. All we see in front of us is death. The promise of resurrection can seem so far off and impossible.
One of the hardest things for me in heading overseas was to give up a wonderful opportunity to pursue a potential music career with a really good friend. The music was good. It gave life and energy to me and others. The words brought deep and important truths to many listeners. And I felt like I was alive every time we played.
Giving it up felt like I was killing a God given part of myself, and of my friend too!
But when I got to the new land, I found that the task of language learning would be just as exciting and engaging. It made me come alive and energize me in the same way. And conversations felt like jam sessions with master musicians. I began to love the music of the language that would roll out of my mouth in endless conversations with people who had never before heard the good news. The gift squandered became something used anew.
Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac, the very son that God so clearly promised him. Isaac was supposed to be the conduit for all the fruitfulness and everything he knew to be true about God’s promises.
But he still went and sacrificed him. Even though he didn’t understand and it seemed so wrong.
To follow God’s call to take the gospel to the nations, his people will have to make brutal, painful, sometimes seemingly senseless and counter-productive sacrifices. But when we look with faith, we will see him come through on his good promises.
Normally farmers take great care to make sure they know what kind of soil they’re putting their seed in. They’ll think about what crops were in the year before, how much the soil has been worked, and what nutrients may or may not be present. They’ll do everything they can to makes sure they’re investing in fruitful ground, so they can get the maximum yield out of their seed. These days with modern technology, things can get really precise. Based on GPS signals and various soil samples, machines can automatically adjust the amount of seed sown depending on the quality of the soil in any given location.
But the sower in Mark 4 is a very different kind of farmer. He’s not worried about efficiency, return on his seed, or carefully analyzing the land and his seeding. He just throws the seed out there, and it lands in all kinds of different places. And there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with that.
We should probably be more focused on throwing seed out there like the farmer in Mark 4, and not be so concerned about painstakingly analyzing and trying to find the perfect soil. Because, after all, this is not the kind of farming that we can figure out and optimize using GPS signals and soil samples. It’s a spiritual work of faith, sowing seeds into human hearts, and any sprouting is a miracle of God.
I’m skeptical of any teaching that says we need to find the perfect soil, or work to prepare the soil, and only then sow the seed. Who said we had to do that? And is that even possible?? Just tell people, all kinds of different people, about Jesus. Scatter your seed all over. You may be very, very surprised to see which seeds actually sprout, grow, and bear fruit.
Jesus said that his food was to do the will of one who sent him. (John 4:34)
If God’s work that he has for us to do is like food, then I think it’s pretty safe to assume that it should be good, nourishing, even enjoyable. It should give us energy, strengthen us, and put a smile on our face.
If your food’s making you weak, sick, and miserable, then you’re eating the wrong food, or something’s very wrong.
Or, it could be that you’re eating and eating and never taking breaks. That’ll make you feel terrible as well.
Yes, following God involves massive suffering, even heartache. But even as we face suffering, loneliness, and all kinds of sufferings, doing his will should bring joy to our hearts, and give us strength for endurance.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor 4:16)
If your “ministry” is consistently sucking your life away, making you “dried out”, and not giving life, maybe it’s not the will God for you.
There’s a lot of talk these days about how we need to work to see the gospel spread through “existing family and community networks.”
People are really working hard to keep disciples closely attached to their family and community connections. And these relationships are almost depended upon as the vehicle for the good news to spread.
But let’s think about this for a second.
While it certainly is wonderful when the good news spreads though existing relational ties, there is absolutely no reason why it should and always must be that way.
The gospel can (and often does) spread through totally unrelated, unconnected people. It quickly runs past and goes beyond family and community ties.
So, should we teach local disciples to put all their hopes and efforts into their existing relational connections?
Maybe they’re not supposed to worry very much about this at all. Maybe they’re supposed to quickly move beyond them and seek the lost in other circles or communities. Let them go!
God can push them into totally new circles, and create opportunities to share the good news with people they had absolutely no previous connection to.
After all, what was the hardest, most fruitless ground for Jesus’ ministry? His own family and community.
So why should we feel so attached to something that Jesus was very quick to move on from, or even ignore? (Matt 12:46-50)
Why should we be so locked in on getting fruit from the one area that seemed the most barren and fruitless for Jesus himself?
“A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” (Mark 6:4)
When we live in situations, places, and ways that push us beyond our normal means of living, we learn to look to Him.
This act of looking to the Father, believing he’s real, and locking our lives and our hopes on him is really something like excercising the muscle of faith.
We look to him to protect us when we can’t rely on our surroundings or the law and order of some country to keep us safe.
We look to him to shield us from rumours, lies, and intrigues that might swirl around among a hostile or suspicious people.
We look to him for our daily bread when we don’t have any way of earning money, and we’re busying ourselves with making his name known.
We look to him to back up our words as we talk about him in a place where the things we say about Jesus are considered foolish, ridiculous, or even blasphemous.
We look to him to open doors and make a way for us to live and relate to people in places where we really don’t belong, and shouldn’t be able to go.
We look to him to take care of our hearts when we’re seperated from family and friends that understand us so well.
When we ‘put our hope in him,’ our expectations for provision, protection, life, and goodness are directed towards God himself. Often we’re kindly forced to “put our hope in him,” when we see our human strenghts or securities vanish before our eyes.
The Psalms are full of words describing this kind of looking… a kind of looking that your life depends on. He has to be real, because if he’s not our lives would be impossible and pointless. And that’s when we realize that he is our life.
And we get to see, firsthand, how incredibly beautiful, caring, and life-giving he really is!
When we walk among the lost we feel Christ’s compassion and love for them. When sit down and talk with them, we’re moved in the same way he is. When we see them hear and understand what he’s been aching to tell them, we feel his joy.
And so, naturally, we get to know Jesus more through the whole process.
After all, When we share in someone’s pains and joys, we get to know them better. When we share someone’s hopes and dreams, intimacy grows.