"I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need." (Philippians 4:12)
I doubt many of us think of plenty as something that needs to be faced. When we face a thing, we typically consider that thing to be negative. We face adversity. We face trials. We face bad news, unemployment, sickness. But plenty—we embrace that. We pray for it. We long for it. We certainly don’t face it as if it it poses danger or is a difficulty that must be endured.
But we should.
Plenty attacks our hearts. Plenty spoils us. Plenty gives us a sense of entitlement. Plenty makes us want even more. It undermines contentment. It sets itself up as a god to be worshipped. At its worst it chokes out the word of God and hinders its fruit in our lives.
Having plenty is no more a sin than having nothing, but it must be faced head on with a spirit of protection and carefulness. We must rely on the strength given through Jesus Christ to endure the undertow that threatens to sweep even the strongest Christian away in its ease and comfort.
It’s okay to run away. It’s okay to hide. It’s okay to make yourself scarce when you know you are outmatched. It’s more than okay, it’s biblical.
”The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.” (Proverbs 22:3)
Just in case you need to hear it again, it’s right there in the book of Proverbs one more time.
”The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.” (Proverbs 27:12)
Hiding from danger may not be considered very brave, but it is wise.
Consider David. A king. A warrior. A man of valor. Armed with only a couple river rocks and a sling, he charged toward a nearly ten foot tall behemoth who was wielding a spear with a shaft like a weaver’s beam. Killed the monster in one shot. Cut off his head with his own sword. Yet he spent the next several years hiding in caves from King Saul who couldn’t hit the broad side of a castle with his spear if he wanted to.
But after Saul died, David took the kingdom. He lead his country with a strong arm. Victorious in battle again and again, he established his reign. But then his own son got a little cheeky. Stormed the castle with a couple hundred men. So David ran away again. Hiding in caves must have been kind of reminiscent to him.
But I don’t think David was a coward. I think David was wise. I think David was prudent. When David saw danger, he took cover. Not always, but when it was the right thing to do.
You and I have every reason to be brave. We’re told to…
“Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” (Ephesians 6:10)
“Stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” (1 Corinthians 16:13)
And yet we’re also told to…
“Flee from sexual immorality.” (1 Corinthians 6:18)
“Flee from idolatry.” (1 Corinthians 10:14)
“Flee youthful passions.” (2 Timothy 2:22)
There’s no need to prove yourself. Run away. Stay away. Hide. The simple go on without a care. They think they can handle themselves.
Don’t be that guy.
Better to be considered a coward and live than to die a fool.
I used to dream of being famous. (Who didn’t?) Throughout my life I have wanted to be all kinds of different things–an athlete, a musician, an artist, an author, even a Pastor (different kind of famous, I guess). But here I am, the ripe old age of 31, my life half over, well passed the age I thought I would have already been a millionaire, and yet I am nothing. But I am learning to accept that.
Not really. It is hard to accept. I still want to be heard. I still want to be seen. I still want to be followed. I still want to be popular. Nope, it didn’t go away after high school. And the worst part is, I am all the more shy, apathetic, introverted, and boring today as I ever was. Kind of frustrating, actually.
But today I ran across two bible verses, both of which leapt off the page (the screen) and slapped me in the face.
The first was in Esther (when I searched the bible for “popular”):
“For Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Ahasuerus, and he was great among the Jews and popular with the multitude of his brothers, for he sought the welfare of his people and spoke peace to all his people.” –Esther 10:3
And the second was in Ecclesiastes (when I searched for “quiet”):
“There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard. The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.” (Ecclesiastes 9:14-17)
The first verse from Esther taught me that popularity (fame) in God’s eyes is meant for those who genuinely seek the welfare of others. Something I am very poor at. When you think of the most famous and effective men and women of the bible, none of them sought the popularity itself, they sought the welfare of others.
In the second passage from Ecclesiastes, I was first drawn to verse 17: “The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.” It would be better for me to be quiet and speak even one word of wisdom to one individual than to be the most famous of celebrities shouting at the top of my lungs like a fool. (Now the hard part: finding one person who will listen to me… and finding something wise to say to them!)
Verse 17 is what caught my attention, but the context of the passage sucked me in. Here is a poor man, a wise man, who somehow delivers his entire city by his wisdom. Yet no one remembered him. He didn’t get popular like Mordecai did in the book of Esther. He sought other’s welfare too, but no one cared. Even though his wisdom was so great, it did not afford him popularity. In fact, “the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard.”
Popularity is so overrated. (That’s my excuse anyway).
So hopefully I’m done trying to make a name for myself (says the man typing all of this on to a public blog). Hopefully I will move forward being more concerned about the things of the Lord and how I can best serve him in quietness and seek the welfare of others than about how I can use “my talents” to garnish a following.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go post a link to this article on Facebook so all my friends can read it. I wonder how many “likes” I will get?
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:12-14)
Though some might conclude that our release from the law gives us freedom to sin, the truth is, it gives us freedom from sin.
“The power of sin is the law.” (1 Corinthians 15:56)
"And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.’" (Luke 19:8-9)
Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, a rich man despised by others, welcomes Jesus with haste and with joy and is received by Him in the same manner: with haste and with joy, quickly and gladly.
But what is it that brought salvation to Zacchaeus? It almost seems as if he offers Jesus a self-righteous, self-justified list of reasons why Jesus should accept him. "Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold."
But Jesus knows the heart.
Jesus reveals the true reason Zacchaeus was saved: "Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham."
Zacchaeus was more than a son of Abraham by birth. A son of Abraham is not an Israelite, but any man, woman, or child in the whole world who puts their faith in Jesus Christ.
"Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’ Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham." (Galatians 3:6-7)
But faith is not dead. Zacchaeus’ seemingly self-righteous list of good deeds was not self-righteous at all. Faith like Abraham’s does not lie dormant. Faith works.
"Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?" (James 2:21)
The little story of the little man Zacchaeus encourages us, encourages me, that Jesus will gladly receive even the chiefest tax collector, and even the chiefest tax collector can be made a new creation, and be lead by the Spirit to do good works in the name of Jesus Christ.
Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. (Luke 17:7-8)
The only specific thing I can think of that the bible says God is slow about is anger. When it comes to helping His children, He will move as fast as possible.
So when it takes a while for Him to act, know that it doesn’t mean He hasn’t heard you, or that He doesn’t care, or that He doesn’t know what to do. He is perfect in His timing, swift in His acting, never slack in His concern.
Today I told the story of Job to my Sunday School class of precious 5 year olds. One of the things I love about teaching kids is that I always seem to discover new and exciting truths in old familiar stories. They are not new truths, of course, just things I hadn’t recognized before.
Job had everything any person could ever want; he had a big family, he had perfect health, and he was the richest man in the world. He was even commended by God as being righteous. When Satan accused Job before God, God gave Satan permission to take away everything Job had. When Satan took away Job’s livelihood, family, and health, Job did not blame God for his troubles but worshiped Him instead. Job proved Satan wrong. Satan had told God that Job only worshiped Him because He had blessed him. But throughout the book of Job we find that Job worshiped God even when things went bad for him. The two most well known verses from Job sum it up nicely:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21)
“Though he slay me, I will hope in him” (Job 13:15)
I have always filed this story in the “we ought to worship God at all times” category. That is completely true. Psalm 34:1 says, “I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” But today while telling the story of Job I learned these three things afresh:
Number 1: It is Satan’s hand that harmed Job, not God’s. It seems obvious, but it was the wording of the verses in chapter 1 that caught my attention. Satan incites God: “Stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” But God answers, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand.” (Job 1:11-12, emphasis added.) Satan is good at spinning his own evil to God’s credit. It comes out in common phrases like, “If God is good, why do bad things happen?”–thus pinning the blame on God with the implication that all bad things are His fault. The question would be better phrased, “Since God is good, for what reason does He allow the devil to continue doing evil?” Thus God is not the enemy, the devil is. And that question, deserving of much more time than will be given to it in this post, is answered all over the bible….
Number 2: God’s love for us is independent of our circumstances. When things do not go well for us, we do not need to doubt God’s love. Before we started the story, I asked the kids about their Christmas’. They enthusiastically told me about all their favorite presents. As a segue into Job, I asked, “So, how do we know God loves us? Is it because we all got awesome presents for Christmas!?” I was so proud when the class resounded: “NO!” So I asked them to raise their hand and tell me how we know for certain that God loves us. One little boy (who normally doesn’t answer questions) shot up his hand and said, “Because Jesus died for our sins!”
“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
God’s love is not found in the blessings he gives us. God does not show His love for us in that we have good health and prosperous lives. It is God who blesses us with those things, but it is not the demonstration of His love. Furthermore, God’s love is not depreciated when blessings are scarce. We know God loves us because He became sin on our behalf to make us the righteousness of God in Him. No matter what the condition of our lives, we always know He loves us because He died on the cross for us.
Number 3: Just because things are bad does not mean God thinks that we are. When things do not go well for us, we don’t have to assume it is because we’ve done something wrong. Job was commended by God Himself as being a righteous man, and yet he had troubles. God’s love for us is not measured by circumstances, nor is our righteous standing before Him.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)
This peace we have with God exists even when peace in our life does not. We lay hold of God’s love through faith, and it is through that faith in Him that we are made to be completely righteous. Present circumstances neither confirm nor deny our standing, it is promised to us in God’s word–period.
I did not expect these truths to be pointed out to me through Job. But they strengthen me so that, at some point, when Satan tries to incite God’s hand against me, I can rest in the knowledge that it will not be God’s loving, nail-pierced hand that reaches out to hurt me, but it will be His hand that holds me tight as I walk through the fire with Him.