Powerful Passages, Pt. 10
Study Guide, January 22, 2017
Pastor Clay Olsen
One of the most important purposes in our study times is not only to communicate Biblical information, but to prompt all of us to, as was said of Mary, to ‘ponder over all these things’…particularly in how these things are to change us more and more into what God has purposed for us. Dr. Howard Hendricks used to like to say: “The purpose of Biblical study is not changed minds, but changed lives.” If I am not changing in how I personally think, how I socially interact, and how I daily live, then I need to change my goals for living. I love how the Apostle Paul so often just ‘bottom-lined’ the issues of life, like in 2 Cor. 5:14-15 when he said: “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” NASU
If we are going to make real life changes as followers of Christ we have to start right here with choosing not ‘What’ we are living for, but ‘Who’ we are living for. And in order to ‘no longer live for ourselves, but live for Christ’, we have to accept the fact that when we received Christ into our lives we not only received the right to become children of God, but we also gave up the right to now be the one in charge of our life. For when Christ comes into a life, He comes in as who He is: He is Lord and Master. So to live wisely each day requires making a transfer of power each day over to the Lordship of Christ. That daily and purposeful transfer of power is to become the normal way that you and I live each day.
What this also means is that when we fail to transfer this daily right for Christ to be in charge of our life we should realize that the degree that we fail to do this is the degree that we are still living in direct resistance against the Lordship of Christ in our life. Plus, we should know that Christ’s Lordship is essential to Christ’s leadership in the daily things in our lives, like in everything from decision making to relationship building to making day to day plans. In other words, what is required in order to benefit from Christ’s leadership in our lives is that we daily commit to His Lordship over our lives.
So that’s the charge for each of us, and that is; to make sure we are daily turning control of our lives over to the Lordship of Christ, who alone has the right to be in charge of our lives. That’s the charge. Now, here’s the caution: As you daily surrender to the Lordship of Christ and look to Him for His leadership in your life, do not make the circumstances of your life either become the way you evaluate the love and care of God for your life nor the way you determine your faithfulness in life. Remember this: Never evaluate God’s love for you according to the circumstances of your life. Evaluate God’s love for you according to the Cross of Jesus Christ…who demonstrated once and for all how much He loves you. He gave everything, His very life, in order to have you with Him forever. And as for circumstances, circumstances can be helpful as secondary measurements in our walk with the Lord, but never make them the primary measurements as to your walk with the Lord. To take the next steps in discipleship you have step past circumstances controlling your life and choose to be controlled instead by the love of Christ; as in, Christ’s love for you and your love for Him.
What are we to do with circumstances? Part of the answer to that is to look at it like this: What are we to expect in this life as a result of committing our lives to live as faithful followers of the Lord Jesus? Let’s explore.
How would you fill in the rest of this? Life is…
Here are a few endings: ‘Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it.’
‘Life is like a coin. You can spend it any way you wish, but you can only spend it once.’
‘Life is short…smile while you still have teeth.’
‘Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.’
‘Life is hard, unfair, confusing, and short…but mostly, life is a gift.’ Since life is a gift, why then do we expect so much?
One of the things we regularly need to change, or regularly adjust, is our expectations. Perhaps one of the greatest stumbling blocks in our understanding of the reality of life for a Christian in this world is this: Unrealistic expectations. And unrealistic expectations are often the result of misrepresenting or misunderstanding what God has promised His followers in this life. You are probably familiar with the words of a hymn that was written by Annie Johnson Flint. She lived in the late 1800’s. Her parents died when she was young. She was raised by a loving Aunt and Uncle and became a committed follower of Christ. One of the lessons she learned in connection with the life of faith was that she could not dictate to the Lord as to how He was to supply her needs. She struggled with severe arthritis, which interfered with her job as a Teacher. So she began writing poems and Sunday School lessons, and hymns. And one hymn in particular has been a great help for Christians through the ages for clearing the air on unrealistic expectations about the Christian life. You’ll recognize it: ‘God has not promised skies always blue, flower-strewn pathways all our lives through; God has not promised sun without rain, joy without sorrow, peace without pain. God has not promised we shall not know toil and temptation, trouble and woe; He has not told us we shall not bear many a burden, many a care. God has not promised smooth roads and wide, swift, easy travel, needing no guide; never a mountain rocky and steep, never a river turbid and deep…But God has promised strength for the day, rest for the labor, light for the way, grace for the trials, help from above, unfailing kindness, and undying love.’1
Are your expectations about this life realistic expectations or unrealistic expectations? Or, are you Biblically clear about what God has promised and what He hasn’t promised? This is a much more crucial issue in life than many Christians realize, because the only way to sustain a faithful and committed walk with Christ is to maintain the kind of faith that says like Daniel’s friends: “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Dan 3:17-18 NASU
Their faith was fixed upon their commitment to God, not fastened to the circumstances of life. In other words, their faith could not be defeated by the circumstances of life because their faith was set upon a different foundation; the Person of God and the real promises of God. They didn’t have unrealistic expectations about this life, and as a result there was nothing in this life, nothing in the circumstances of this life, that could defeat them and their faith, nor diminish their faithfulness. Commitment to Christ means having the kind of faith that cannot be defeated by the circumstances of life.
In the seal of the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society from 1814 there is an ox standing in the center. In front of the ox is a plow. Behind is an altar with smoke rising from it. Over this picture is a banner with the words, “Ready for Either.” Ready to be harnessed to the plow to serve, or ready to be offered up to God on that altar as a sacrifice.
Every Christian will come to a point in his or her walk with God when, if they are going to follow Christ closely and faithfully and not at a distance and compromisingly, they are going to have to be able to say before God and man: “I’m Ready for Either”; either to serve or to be sacrificed. Are you ready to say that? “I’m ready to serve behind the plow or I’m ready to be sacrificed in whatever circumstances I am in”.
Remember this: God owes us nothing. Our very birth life was a complete gift from God. And now our second birth into eternal life is another gift, an eternal life gift of salvation from God. God owes us nothing, but He has willed to give us so much. And He has even given us precious promises that He is going to do just that. But again, we must know what God has promised for this life and what He hasn’t promised in this life if we are going to live out our lives as faithful followers of our Savior and Lord.
In other words, we need to know what the possibilities are, and then we need to be ‘ready for either’. And in the chapter we refer to as the ‘Faith chapter’ with the ‘Heroes of Faith’, we find out just what those possibilities are. We looked at this passage a while back, but we need to look at it in connection with our focus today: Heb 11:32-38- “And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.” NASU
These are the experiences of the heroes of the faith. And notice carefully that both groups were faithful, yet both experienced very different circumstances in life. If those who experienced the sufferings and hardships had based their faithfulness to God upon how well things were going for them in their lives, they would not have been listed here in the ‘heroes of the faith’ chapter. If their faith life had been focused on personal fulfillment, they wouldn’t have been listed here among the faithful. But they are here because their faith was not focused on personal fulfillment, but upon personal commitment. They had stepped beyond making the circumstances of life be that which determined their faithfulness. And that’s the step we need to take as well. They had stepped up to connecting their faithfulness to: God’s eternal love for them and their eternal love for God, regardless of whatever temporary circumstances they were in.
And another reason their faith was not determined by their circumstances was because of the focus of their faith. They could detach themselves from their circumstances because their faith was attached to something better…a better country. Look at Heb 11:13-16- “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” NKJV
One of the elements of a vital Biblical faith is to carry this identity about yourself as being ‘a Pilgrim’ in this life, and carrying this sense of being ‘on pilgrimage’ through this life. And one of the things that Pilgrims expect when they are on pilgrimage is they expect hard circumstances along the way. What a blessing for sure when things go well on a pilgrimage, but the point is, when they don’t, those hard circumstances do not change why we are on pilgrimage nor where we are going.
What personal identity to you primarily carry in your life? How about; ‘a Pilgrim on pilgrimage’. If we Disciples of the Lord also started thinking of ourselves not only as Disciples of the Lord, but also as Pilgrims who are on pilgrimage through this world, through this country, who are headed to a ‘Better Country’; then we would think a lot more realistic about our purpose in life and about the hard circumstances of this life. And then, instead of expecting more and more blessings out of this life, we would seek to be more and more of a blessing to our Lord and Master and more and more of a blessing to others along the way, doing what we can for whoever we can for as long as can in our pilgrimage to our ‘Better Country’. And we would be able to say, maybe even sing: ‘God has not promised skies always blue, flower-strewn pathways all our lives through; God has not promised sun without rain, joy without sorrow, peace without pain. But God has promised strength for the day, rest for the labor, light for the way, grace for the trials, help from above, unfailing kindness, undying love.’
And not only is that enough…that is all we need for living a life of faithfulness, committed to living under the control of the Lordship of Christ, regardless of whatever circumstances we have to face on our pilgrimage to the ‘Better Country’, our eternal home.
- Rowland V. Bingham, Annie’s Story, Bible Memory Association International,
No copyright and no date, homemakerscorner.com