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9. Taking Control of your Life
A one-off set of guidance notes to help us remember who we are in order to enable us to overcome difficult and trying circumstances & people.
A. Dealing with Difficult Circumstances
“Difficult Circumstances” are either:
• things that happen to us outside of our control
• e.g. sickness, accident caused by another etc.
• things we bring about
• e.g. debt from inability to cope with finances, car breakdown from failing to maintain it, etc.
1. Remember WHO you are:
We need to remember:
2. Remember THE RESOURCES available to you
We need to remember:
3. Remember GOD'S DESIRE for you
We need to remember:
B. Dealing with Difficult ‘People Situations'
(All the previous things still apply)
Difficulties with people come either:
• because we got it wrong and upset them, or
• because they are just nasty!
1. When we got it wrong and upset them
• Go to God, tell Him, seek His forgiveness, and His grace and humility to go to them.
• Go to them, acknowledge humbly you got it wrong and ask their forgiveness.
• If they don't respond well, respond graciously and leave it with the Lord.
2. When people were just nasty
This tends to be more common. Follow the following:
a) Remember who they are
• they are either Christians
• and therefore God will be convicting them
• and perhaps wants you to help them graciously
• or they are non-Christians
• and they don't have God's grace
• and need your love and understanding
b) Remember who you are
• You are God's child
• see before, precious and resourced
• You are NOT a door mat!
• you don't have to just put up with their bad treatment
Responding to Bad Treatment.
• DON 'T get angry.
• DO get God's grace/wisdom etc. to respond well
• Look to speak gracious words that will be accepted
• Be willing to let time pass to let the other's anger settle
• Choose a time of your making to speak
• Speak wisely and graciously seeking their best.
10. The Dynamics of Giving
Some basics on the subject of Giving
The Heart of Giving
As with everything else in the Christian life, the key is FAITH. When it came to doing, the apostle Paul said, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love .” (Gal 5:6) There, that's what it's all about, stepping out in acts of love; love is the motivating force behind faith, and that is as true for giving as anything else. We give because we love and we give because we have heard God, (“faith comes from hearing ” – Rom 10:17).
Giving is a Response
We sometimes think we ought to give but that misses the point. ‘Doing' because you ‘ought to' is legalism, living by rules, but the Christian faith is all about response to God's love, (“We love because he first loved us.” – 1 Jn 4:19).
Should it be Response to a Need?
It sounds good to say we should respond to a need and in some ways that is true, (“The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same." Lk 3:11) but the truth is that there are often so many needs that it is impossible to meet them all.
Getting God's Wisdom
This forces us to go to God and ask Him for wisdom as to what to give, how to give and when to give. In this case it is responding to the wisdom God says He WILL give (Jas 1:5). That's why when we invite the church to give, we emphasize asking God in prayer what we should give. But even then, we need to hold on to the ‘love element' of giving which is about being aware of God's immense love for us, and giving out of that awareness, otherwise we can find ourselves getting caught up in ‘ought' and then worry and guilt if we are unsure.
God's Love is All-Important
We really can't emphasise this enough. If we are unsure of God's love for us, we will constantly be worrying about getting it wrong and constantly striving to reach some imaginary level of achievement to please God. In the case of giving, we then give to try to please God, but the truth is that God loves us just as we are – even when we are unsure of ourselves and our finances.
Doesn't it Matter then how we deal with our Finances?
Yes, of course it does, because money, or rather how we handle it, has the power to bless us and others, or cause us worry and anxiety. If we focus on ourselves all the time, it is likely that our attitude towards spending will obviously be self-centred, but it will also cause us anxiety – how can I get by, how will we make ends meet, why shouldn't I have that?
It's all about Heart Attitude
The starting place for dealing with our finances and with giving, is submitting it all to God. Solomon wrote, “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” (Prov 16:3). ‘Commit' there means ‘surrender' so this becomes, “Surrender everything you do to God and let Him correct and guide you, and your plans will then succeed.” God doesn't object to us having money – Solomon was the classic example of that – but He doesn't want it to dominate our lives. The barometer that reveals what is happening is our heart. If we are constantly worrying about our finances, it probably means we haven't come to the place of surrender. When we do, we come to a place of real release – “It's in God's hands, so what He says goes, and He'll show us how He'll provide.” This is building real faith in our lives.
Easy to say when you don't have much
Actually giving is difficult for everyone because ‘self' would rather get the benefit, but it appears more difficult when we have little or are in debt. Then we are especially conscious of the little we have or the burden we have to pay off, but the principle is still exactly the same – surrender it to God and let Him guide you, ask for His wisdom – and then listen.
11. Characteristics of the Christian Faith
Some of the basic characteristics of what it means to be a Christian.
1. God Initiated
God the Initiator
Again and again in the Bible we find God initiating – He brings the world into being and us human beings (Gen 1), He initiates a relationship with Abram (Gen 12), He meets with Moses (Ex 3) and delivers Israel out of Egypt (Ex 12). In every instance it is God who takes the initiative.
Jesus the Initiator
In Luke 5 we find Jesus by the Sea of Galilee when he sees Peter's boat on the shore. John in his Gospel tells us that Peter had first met Jesus down at Bethany where John the Baptist was baptising people. Now back at home, Peter is at his business of fishing – well, actually mending his nets after a fruitless night's fishing! Jesus invades Peter's space and steps into his boat.
Jesus the ‘Space Invader'
There is a good illustration here of what Jesus does. Our ‘private space' is that comfort zone close to us where we feel uncomfortable when someone invades it – “Don't come too close!”
Whether we realise it or not, Jesus invaded our personal space if we have now become a Christian. At some point he came close and ‘disturbed our comfort'.
Now of course Jesus comes to us today, not through a human body but by his Spirit (although it could have been his Spirit using another person), and so we perhaps weren't aware of him coming close. All we were aware of was that we started having questions, or perhaps desires. We didn't, probably, realise that this was him coming close and speaking to us – but it was .
Very simply, he draws close and speaks – although we almost invariably never realise that it is him or that he is speaking. It's not like a person was in front of us; we just find our thoughts and feelings changing – and perhaps wonder why.
What is he doing?
He's getting our interest! Remember Moses and the burning bush (see Exo 3)? God used a burning bush to attract Moses. Once He had caught his attention, He started speaking to him.
When this happens we observe people starting to show interest in the Bible, or church, or spiritual things generally. Sometimes the ‘burning bush' is a crisis in life which pulls us up and makes us take a fresh interest in the meaning and purpose of our lives.
Does God only do this at the beginning of our spiritual lives to get our attention and draw us to Himself? No, he does the same sort of thing again and again throughout our lives.
So what happens?
We had perhaps settled in life and Christianity/church had become boring and we lost the early excitement of faith. We became taken up with work, home, ambitions or whatever and God knew that we were missing out!
Suddenly another ‘burning bush'! If we had grown apathetically indifferent to being led by His Spirit, he allows a bombshell to be dropped and suddenly we are wondering what happened, and we are questioning life.
We found ourselves getting dissatisfied and wondered why? We found ourselves questioning what we were doing (or not doing). What was happening? Jesus was getting into our space again (which we had foolishly decided was ‘ours') forgetting that, actually, he was Lord of it anyway. He was just coming to remind us of that fact. Ooops!
2. We Surrender
We considered the fact that God is an initiator and that we are what we are because He initiated contact with us. He had already initiated the basis for our salvation when Jesus went to the Cross on our behalf. He brought this to us through some other person sharing with us, and then His Holy Spirit convicted us of our need of salvation. That was all His part, His activity, that started this process off.
However, nothing would have happened if we hadn't responded to the prompting of His Spirit. Whereas He initiated the contact, we had to respond to it. As we saw in the message last week, Peter had to respond to Jesus' request to use his boat, and then to Jesus' instruction to throw out his net. For the ensuing miracle to happen, it required Peter to respond to Jesus.
Similarly, in our own lives, we had to make a response to God. Now this may sound so obvious, but it is a vital point in all that happens. For instance many people believe you are a Christian just because you grew up in a so-called (but no longer) Christian country, or because you are good or even because you go to church, but all of these things fall short of God's requirement which is to make a specific response to His specific call.
For those of us who are Christians, we can look back to a time when we were brought to a crisis point, where we were challenged over belief about Jesus Christ and our willingness to commit to him. At that point we surrendered our pride and we gave in to God. As He reached down to us, we let go and reached up to Him. Perhaps it had been for years that we had ruled our own lives, ignored God, and done our own thing, but now, suddenly, we realised it was foolish to go on alone and we surrendered and asked Him to take over and lead our lives. THAT was the turning point!
God's Immediate transforming work
When we came to that place of surrender and willingness to let God lead our lives from that point on, God declared us forgiven, placed His Holy Spirit within us and declared us His adopted children. Although many of us weren't aware of that happening at the time we were aware of something changing. We felt different. Part of it was because we had let go of the responsibility for leading our lives, but mostly it was because we had a new energy source within – Him! We were a new person. That's what Jesus meant by being ‘born again' (John 3).
God's Ongoing transforming work
When we surrendered to God, remember, it was to let Him take charge of our lives and lead and guide us from then on. God's intent is to help us become the whole and fulfilled people He's designed us to be. Now there is something very important here. Because God has given us free will, He never forces us. He may prompt or nudge us in some direction (like changing a wrong attitude, say) but He will never force us, He will never make us change. He looks for us to choose.
The need for Ongoing Surrender
The other equally important thing to note is that if God is to be able to lead us to become the whole and fulfilled people He's designed us to be, that means that many changes will have to take place in us. Now, as we've just said, he will never force us to make those changes, but for them to take place we have to (again and again) surrender our will to His. He can't empower us for change without our surrender.
An Awful Possibility
Without surrendering our will every time God speaks to us or prompts us in respect of change, we have this terrible possibility of our lives becoming stagnant or even drifting backwards. Symptoms of this happening are when we start feeling fed up with God, with Church, with other people, and with the Christian life in general. The answer is to go back to the last thing we refused to do, ask forgiveness and do it! Obedience to God restores the ongoing nature of our Christian lives.
We have seen, so far in this series, that becoming a Christian is a God-initiated event. When we examine the Bible and Christian experience, we find that every person who ever became a Christian was, in fact, someone who God spoke to and drew to a point of commitment, that place we spoke of last week as a place of surrender. However, it is also something that has to happen again and again throughout the Christian life.
Why the big issue over ‘faith'
Well, faith is about belief in action. The apostle James wrote, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (Jas 2:17). Faith is about responding positively to God. The person without faith, very simply, does not respond to God.
Responding to God means living in direct response to what God says, but first we have to believe we are hearing from Him.
The first times we ‘hear' God
None of us know when we first heard God speaking to us because we didn't realise it was Him speaking. Many of us, when we look back, come to realise that, in fact, the things we thought or heard or read, were God speaking to us, but at the time we didn't realise it was Him. Yet we responded to what we heard or saw and then things happened, and we subsequently realised that that had been an act of faith on our part. We had, in fact, responded to God speaking. That was faith.
Every time we exercise faith it is because we have ‘heard' God speaking, whether when we read the Bible, listen to someone preaching, or simply hearing the ‘quiet whisper' of His voice in our mind. Every time we respond to His voice, that is faith.
Different Ways of Hearing
Now we have already mentioned some of the key ways we ‘hear' God but let's look at them in a little more detail:
i) God speaks through the Bible
There is a sense whereby everything we read in the Bible is God speaking to us, but sometimes it particularly ‘comes alive' or a verse stands out. What is it saying? It's an opportunity for faith in action.
Every Sunday morning we have this opportunity. Every time our conscience is pricked by something the preacher is saying, God's on our case! Every time we're convicted that, yes, this applies to me, this is God on our case. Another opportunity for faith in action.
iii) Quiet Whisper
This is most common. We have a thought. Perhaps we don't like it because it pricks our conscience or we know it's something we really ought to do. Those who are wise learn to listen to their thoughts, God's whisper. It could be it's another opportunity for faith in action.
iv) Through prayer
Have you ever found yourself praying something and then wondering, “Now why ever did I pray that?” It could be it was God prompting you, God getting your attention. Take note of it, it's possibly another opportunity for faith in action.
v) Prophetic Words
Has a word brought by someone out the front challenged you and you've had the sense it was for you? Quite possibly it was; quite possibly it was another opportunity for faith in action.
Opportunities for Faith in action?
Yes, each time when God speaks it's an opportunity for you to respond positively and do what He says, and when you do, He blesses you. Why turn down a blessing? Faith is DOING in RESPONSE to what HE SAYS. When we do, He is pleased. Let's be a people who please God.
4. A Gift
A Common Misunderstanding
In the apostle Paul's letter to the church in Galatia , he focused on a problem that they were suffering and which many today suffer from, the desire to try to add to Christ's work on the Cross by our efforts.
The Way of Effort
In Galatians 3:3, Paul says, “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” and he started comparing two different approaches to becoming and being a Christian. The first way is by ‘doing' things to please or appease or influence God. The second way is simply to believe what He says.
The Way of Pride
We like the first way because it appeals to our pride. We like to think we can contribute to becoming spiritual or becoming holy. If we can be seen to be good by our efforts, or appear religious by our rituals, then we feel good about that, but actually that is being godless, for we exclude God from the equation in reality. This is religion without God, religion by self-effort. The second way seems too simple. It can't be as simple as that, we say, you've got to show you believe by doing things. Isn't that exactly what James meant when he said, “ faith without deeds is dead”? (Jas 2:26) No! Read on!
The Cross + Faith + Nothing!
No, the truth is that we are saved by our simple belief in what Jesus has done for us on the Cross: he died to take our sins and our punishment so that we can relate to God without fear. We can't try and DO things to get God on our side, because HE ALREADY IS! He's done everything that needs to be done to bring us forgiveness. All we need do is receive it!
Understand it by Abraham
In Galatians 3, Paul gives the illustration of Abram. There is something remarkable about him (read Genesis 12 onwards), and one has to assume that this is why the Lord chose him, and it is that he simply believed God. His father had given up on his journeying to Canaan but when he died the word came again to Abram and he went. Simple as that! Now one of the other big things about Abram was that he was childless and his wife, Sarai, was unable to have children, but late in their lives the Lord came and promised them children and Abram's response could be summarised as, “All right!” He just believed the Lord.
Believing is the basis of righteousness
The Scriptural record is that God declared Abram righteous simply because he believed the Lord: “ He (God) took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars--if indeed you can count them.' Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.' Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Abram hadn't done anything at that moment; he just believed, and because he believed the Lord declared him a righteous person. Now it is very important to see that. Abram had done NOTHING at that point, but believe the Lord. If the Lord said it, then it would come about. At that moment it was a mind or attitude thing and that was all that was necessary for him to be declared righteous by God .
So, says Paul, today salvation comes through simple faith, the same sort of faith that Abram had. You simply believe what God says and He declares you righteous. Just like Abram, it happens at the moment that God speaks and you agree. Today the Lord comes to draw us to Himself. He speaks a word and we are convicted and we say yes to Him. We surrender. It is a momentary thing, but at that moment of surrender to God and agreeing (believing) in all that Jesus has done for us on the Cross, we ARE saved. God declares it. We are righteous. The ‘doing' bit is what follows AFTER we have been saved, and we'll look at that next week.
5. We Change
Recap: Works Don't Save
To recap what we said above, and this is very important in the life of a Christian, ‘works' or ‘effort' or ‘spiritual acts' are NOT means to salvation – they are the outworking of it. We are saved simply by believing in Jesus and what he has achieved for us on the Cross (he took our sins, our punishment and our guilt, so that we could receive cleansing, forgiveness, adoption as children of God, and eternal life).
Two sorts of ‘works'
When we talk about work or works in respect of the Christian life we are referring to a) the work of Christ IN us to change us to become more like him, and b) the work of Christ THROUGH us to bless others. This week we'll consider the first and then next week the second.
Christ working in Us
The apostle Paul spoke a lot about us ‘growing up' and the Holy Spirit (or the Spirit of Jesus) working in us.
We “ are being transformed into his likeness ” (2 Cor 3:18 ) and are to “ grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ .” (1 Pet 3:18) and so we are to “ Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us .” (Eph 5:1,2)
So, from these verses we see that:
• Jesus is working to change us.
• He's seeking to make us like himself, i.e. we are to grow up to become like him.
• That starts as we get to know him and know about him.
• It happens by his grace (or power) working in us helping us change.
• And we are to copy him (God), loving others
We need to remember that:
• this is HIM working in us, and
• it is HIS power changing us AFTER we come to him, but
• he wants OUR PERMISSION and co-operation to bring change,
• we have a responsibility to DO OUR PART, to step out in faith.
Working with him for change
The New Testament is full of illustrations of the changes that need to come about in us:
Eph 4:22-24 with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
That is our part.
For God is working in you , giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. (Phil 2:13)
That is God's side of it.
He speaks to you on the inside, nudging you towards His will, and then as you act, He empowers your action and enables you to act differently to the way the ‘old you' acted.
That's why the apostle Paul gave such specific guidance for us, things to stop doing, and things to work for, e.g.
Col 3:5,8,12-14 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed… rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips… clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
When we go to ‘put off' and ‘put on', God then enables us to do it, and we are changed! Remember, this is an OUTWORKING of His presence in us.
6. We Serve
Recap: Two sorts of ‘work'
We said last week that when we talk about work or works in respect of the Christian life we are referring to a) the work of Christ IN us to change us to become more like him, and b) the work of Christ THROUGH us to bless others. Last week we considered the first and now, this week, the second.
God has a plan!
One thing we have noted before is that the Christian life is all about what God does in us and for us. As we so often say, “God loves you and has a plan for your life”, and it's true! The Christian life is all about letting God do what He wants in you and lead you into doing what He wants you to do.
Consider: “ we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do .” (Eph 2:10). See how the Living Version puts it: It is God himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus; and long ago he planned that we should spend these lives in helping others .”
Listen to what someone wrote about the early church: “ Part of the reason for Christianity's rapid spread, historians have remarked, was simply that the early Christians were such nice people. The very kindness of the Christians and their service to the poor and downtrodden attracted new adherents. “Christians astounded the ancients with their charity,” as one historian has put it .”
Isn't that what Jesus meant when he said, “let your light shine before men, that they may (i) see your good deeds and (ii) praise your Father in heaven” (Mt 5:16) [(ii) follows from (i)]
To make others happy?
That's actually why Jesus came to the earth, wasn't it? Ultimately it was to make His Father AND us happy. When we are blessed and at peace with God, we are happy!
It is the self-centred, self-concerned person who is never happy (not really happy).
God sends us out to bless other people and when we do that He is glorified. When we bless other people they are made happy AND , strangely, we are most fulfilled.
Have you realised that? We are most fulfilled when we are following God's directions to love and bless others. So often our burdens come when we ignore those directions and focus entirely on our selves. When it becomes “my job, my work, my life, my pleasure, my ambitions, my hopes, my desires, my wants” it is then that we become wearied, tired, exhausted, inward looking, worried, anxious, concerned, fretful, upset, miserable and feeling empty.
Referring to the work of God in us: 2 Cor 3:18 “ And we … are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit .” i.e. the Holy Spirit is working in us to change us to be like Jesus. And what did Jesus do? Show people his Father's love!
THIS is how God has designed Christians to work best – by looking outwards and upwards rather than constantly inwards. As we do that He resources us with grace. “Give us this day our daily bread” (Mt 6:11) is not merely to feed us. It's also to energise us to bless and feed others.