Well, after a slow start due to weather we have finally made it through the first week of Experiencing God. If you missed last week, no worries, you can jump right in.
As most of you know, I and a group of us went through this study during the fall which led to what we are doing now as a church. And it was the theme of the first unit that really made an impact in me personally, so I’m excited to talk about it today.
Let’s pray and get into it.
Unit 1 of Experiencing God covers the first of what they call the “seven realities” – the seven realities of experiencing God. Basically they are a series of the steps in how we come to know and do God’s will. And reality number 1 is the fact that God is always at work all around us.
This may seem like an obvious truth to most of us, but the reason why it needs to be stated here at the beginning is the fact that, despite what we may claim to believe or even believe that we believe – most of us live our lives as if it were not true. We live our lives as if God finished his work on the sixth day of creation and has been resting ever since. We generally operate as if God set everything in motion and now stands back, watching how it will all work out and only intervening when it is most necessary.
And it is this underlying false belief that results in many a Christian functioning as if we have to do everything ourselves. That we have to figure out what God wants us to do for Him and then do it in our own strength and will power. And when we fail, it just means we have to try harder. And only ask God for help with the really big things that are truly out of our control and ability. After all, He doesn’t like His rest disturbed for things you should be able to do on your own.
Does that about sum it up?
Well, while that may be a popular understanding of how God relates to us lowly humans, that is not at all the picture that Scripture paints of Him. And certainly not how His Son, Jesus, spoke of Him or modeled how to interact with Him. Just the fact that the Son of God came and walked among us is proof that God is not a distant, disinterested dictator, but a compassionate and caring Creator who is close to each one of us.
One thing that Jesus was often in the habit of doing was healing people on the Sabbath day, which really upset the Jewish leaders, because among the many ridiculous laws they had invented about what cannot be done on the Sabbath, healing people was one of them. The original law about the sabbath came with the ten commandments and simply said to rest from your work one day each week. The Jews had turned that into a list of hundreds of laws dictating exactly what “work” consisted of such that people were practically banned from breathing on that day. Jesus doing his healing on such a day was intended to show them that they had the law and their concept of God himself all wrong.
One such healing is recorded in John 5 when Jesus healed a man who had not been able to walk for 38 years.
16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. 17 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing of himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed”
In this one interchange, Jesus made two profound claims.
One is that God is not at rest. That he is continually working in the world in very specific and personal ways such as healing a lame man.
God is not a distant task master who is only interested in how well his little creatures can jump through hoops to please Him. He is personal and working in and on mankind’s behalf every second of every day – even on the Sabbath.
That’s what Paul is talking about when he says in
28 And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.
Notice who is the active worker – God. God works all things together for the good of those who love Him. That is a powerful statement. How much of your life do you suppose “all things” includes? All of it? The Greek behind “all things” is “all things.” So, is there any part of your life that God is not working in? No.
God is always at work all around us.
And He’s working for our good..but not the “good” that most people think about when they quote this verse. The good God is working toward for you and I is not according to our purposes, our definition of good, our desires. But according to His purposes. His definition of good. And that definition is spelled out in the very next verse.
28 And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
What is the “good” that God is working toward in those of us who love Him? To be conformed to the image of His Son. God is working all around you in order to make you more like His Son…Jesus. It’s been His plan for you since before the world was made.
So, what does it mean to be the image of Jesus? Well, it has nothing to do with what you look like. And it’s not about copying his life and doing the things He did. It is ultimately about developing the same character as Jesus, and one character in particular which was the root cause of everything that Jesus said and did.
He spelled it out himself in the passage we first looked at from John 5. After pointing out to his detractors that God himself was always working, He made a bold claim about himself..
19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing of himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amaze”
Jesus, the Son of God, claimed that He could do nothing of himself. That, though he was equal with God, He did not act in his role of supreme ruler of the universe while walking on earth as a man. Instead, he submitted his will completely to the Father. In other words, he was 100% obedient 100% of the time.
Paul expressed this fact rather eloquently in
6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
God is working to change each one of us from fully self-reliant to fully God-reliant. He is working to make us like Christ, fully surrendered to obeying Him in every way so that His will can be done on earth as it is in heaven.
He is working to make us into useful tools in the hand of the master.
Think about a tool for a minute. Any kind of tool: hammer, screwdriver, chainsaw, backhoe, pen… None of these tools, no matter how simple or complex, operate on their own. In the absence of a human being to use the tool, it is nothing more than an inanimate object that will gather dust. But in the hands of a person, these tools can accomplish amazing things…or rather the person can accomplish amazing things using the tools.
When you look at a beautiful painting, are you impressed with what the paintbrush did or what the artist did with the paint brush. Same for an impressive bit of architecture. The machines don’t get the credit – the architect and workers do.
A tool is only useful in the hands of the master.
We are tools.
Could you imagine if the tools you were going to use for a project had a mind of their own and started dictating how it is you should use them? Just started doing things for you as they saw fit? Or worse, just started working as if you didn’t exist?
They make horror movies about that.
A tool is only useful in the hands of the master and fully surrendered to be used however the master wishes.
That is what Jesus modeled for us. That is what it means to be in the image of the Son.
Another, more biblical name for it is “servant.”
When Jesus is Lord of your life, that means you are His servant. You are His tool.
And when we mix up the roles…that’s when chaos ensues.
During the time we were first going through this material, this concept really hit me hard. I realized that for most of my Christian life, I had been operating in the “what can I do for God” mode – I had been behaving as if God expected me to do everything on my own and follow some kind of template for what a follower of Jesus is supposed to do. But as we studied this and I saw the proof in Scripture, it’s like I finally understood.
God is the worker
I am His tool
When I mix up the roles
I become then a fool
God is the one working, all around me, to accomplish His purposes in me and in everything else. He doesn’t want or need me to do anything for Him. He just wants me to look at what He is doing and get onboard when He invites me to do so. Just like how Jesus operated.
This was a revelation for me that I put into practice right away. I kept repeating that poem I wrote in my head and kept my eyes open for what God was doing. And pretty quickly it paid off.
Most of you have heard this story, but it’s worth repeating for those that haven’t.
A few weeks into the study, I had a lunch scheduled with a good friend that really needed to happen. There had been a recent strain on our relationship and he was going to be gone for about a month after that, so I was hoping to be able to reconcile some things before he left. Well, that morning he cancelled on me.
Now, the normal me would have pressed the issue, insisted on meeting, not letting him leave town without resolution. But I kept hearing the mantra in my head, “God is working, so I don’t have to.” So, instead of chasing him down, I let God work on him instead.
Then around noon I got a text message from a pastor friend I hadn’t spoken with in about 8 months since he left his pastor position. He was asking me to lunch, and to be honest I didn’t really want to. I was working on stuff, and I didn’t really feel like chit chat. But the mantra “God is working” kept ringing in my ears so I agreed. Nothing of significance seemed to come from that lunch at the time (just catching up kind of chit chat), but later that night I got a text message from him that said, “Thanks for meeting with me today. I had no idea how much it would feed my soul.” And right there I realized that God had used me to be a blessing to a brother who needed it. Pretty awesome!
But then, a few days later, totally unexpected, I got a text message from this friend about properties and buildings he had started researching for me. You see, since he’s been without a pastor job, he’s taken up real estate. And has effectively volunteered to be our real estate agent and has been looking up places for us ever since.
And this wouldn’t have happened if I had followed my own desires instead of joining God’s invitation. God truly is working all around us.
And it would all work out for our own good if we would stop trying to do the work for Him. But so often we get in the trap of feeling like we just have to do something. We can’t just stand there and wait on God. We have to get moving, make something happen. But Scripture is clear…
28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who wait on the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
God as the worker, the master, does not get tired. He never wears out. Nothing is too hard for Him, but us humans…even in our youth, in our prime, we wear out, stumble and fall. But those who wait on the Lord – those who trust and hope in the Lord to do the work as we obey Him – those will renew their strength, soar high on wings like eagles, run and not grow weary, walk and not faint.
That’s because good tools don’t get tired when they are in the hands of the master doing His will.
But it’s awfully exhausting and not very fruitful for a hammer to build a house on it’s own, or a pencil to draw a picture, or backhoe to dig a hole.
Or to use a different analogy, for a stick to bear some fruit.
That comes from the memory verse for this first unit. Jesus used the analogy of vines and branches rather than masters and tools, but it’s the same concept.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
Just like a tool can’t do anything on its own, neither can a stick detached from the vine.
God is at work all around us, shaping and molding us who are willing into the image of His Son – wholly dependent and obedient to Him and thus able to bear the fruit that He himself produces. Able to paint masterpieces as He moves the brush. Able to change the world as He lives through us.
May that be so for us.