If you’ve ever seen me in sandals, you may have noticed the image of an acorn on my left instep. I’ve had many questions over the years about why I chose an acorn of all things. I’m not obsessed with fall and pumpkin spice lattes, and I’m not a tree hugger. (Though I’d like to think I’d make a reasonably decent hippie back in the day, but that’s neither here nor there.)
One day, back in college, I was sitting in my car by my apartment building. It was toward the end of my college career, and God seemed to be changing my future plans. I needed God to speak to me. I sat there with Bible in hand asking God to give me a heads up on what I needed to hear. I ended up playing a game of Bible Roulette. You know, when you pray, “O.K. God, send me where you want me,” and open up to a random page. God works in mysterious ways, though I can’t say this is always the most efficient way to hear God speak. Nevertheless, it was exactly what I needed to hear at the time.
This is where I opened:
“THE SPIRIT of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed and qualified me to preach the Gospel of good tidings to the meek, the poor, and afflicted; He has sent me to bind up and heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the [physical and spiritual] captives and the opening of the prison and of the eyes to those who are bound, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord [the year of His favor] and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, to grant [consolation and joy] to those who mourn in Zion–to give them an ornament (a garland or diadem) of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, the garment [expressive] of praise instead of a heavy, burdened, and failing spirit–that they may be called oaks of righteousness [lofty, strong, and magnificent, distinguished for uprightness, justice, and right standing with God], the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. And they shall rebuild the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former desolations and renew the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. Aliens shall stand [ready] and feed your flocks, and foreigners shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. But you shall be called the priests of the Lord; people will speak of you as the ministers of our God. You shall eat the wealth of the nations, and the glory [once that of your captors] shall be yours. Instead of your [former] shame you shall have a twofold recompense; instead of dishonor and reproach [your people] shall rejoice in their portion. Therefore in their land they shall possess double [what they had forfeited]; everlasting joy shall be theirs. For I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and wrong with violence or a burnt offering. And I will faithfully give them their recompense in truth, and I will make an everlasting covenant or league with them. And their offspring shall be known among the nations and their descendants among the peoples. All who see them [in their prosperity] will recognize and acknowledge that they are the people whom the Lord has blessed. I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as [surely as] the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring forth, so [surely] the Lord God will cause rightness and justice and praise to spring forth before all the nations [through the self-fulfilling power of His word].” (Isaiah 61 AMPC)
It still gives me chills reading through these words. You see, ‘me’ is Jesus, but ‘me’ is also you and me. Jesus brings us hope, joy, beauty, and a spirit of praise that we may be oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord.
In return, we grow ‘by the power of His word’ and produce more, you guessed it, acorns! Christ living in us preaches the Gospel of good tidings. Through Him, we bind up the broken-hearted. We proclaim liberty both spiritually and physically by the power of Jesus Christ.
His Spirit gives us all different gifts, but several are intertwined. Evangelism can be seen in each of the gifts. Evangelism isn’t always preaching on the street corner; it’s being Jesus in whatever way a circumstance calls. It’s being Love. John 13:35 says that men and women will know we are Jesus’ disciples if we love one another. Love comes in the shape of serving, leading, praying, generosity, healing, perseverance, teaching, and so many others. It’s not a question of what you can do for God, but where is God and how can I serve what He is doing.
You may have heard the quote of St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” Put simply, live in a way that exudes Jesus. Be a walking billboard that makes people want to learn more about the love, hope, joy, and freedom that radiates from you.
Have hope that it’s the Spirit’s supernatural ability and not your own. You may have already preached the Gospel to others without realizing it. That’s the beauty of the Spirit living in you. Ask God to make you aware of opportunities to show Christ to others—to plant seeds—and ask Him how best to go about it. It may be words, or it may be actions.
You’ve been gifted the opportunity to be a part in rebuilding what God initially intended His creation to be. You are an oak of righteousness planted by the Lord to spread His glory throughout eternity. Produce more acorns. As a believer, it’s in your nature.
In the fifth chapter of John, our Lord encounters a sick man at the Pool of Bethsaida. Knowing what needed to be done, Jesus poses a question that might seem absurd to some, “Do you want to get well?” but the Creator of the universe looks beyond appearances, beyond circumstances and beyond time.
Before our Savior ascended into Heaven, he told His disciples where He was going. To comfort them, He let them know that it was better if He left them because His departure would summon the arrival of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7). The same power that Jesus displayed to calm the storm, feed the multitudes, and heal the sick would be available to each believer indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11, 31-32, 37). Jesus further declares that we will do even greater things than He had done (John 14:12-17). Really?! Greater evangelism? Greater prayer? Greater healing? Greater prophesying? Yes! All God’s promises are “Yes and Amen!” to His glory (2 Corinthians 1:20)
I know a remarkable woman who has dealt with chronic and acute pain and health issues for more than half her life. In the last thirty years, she has had over twenty operations and treatments. She has taken numerous supplements and medications. She has been on prayer lists around the world, and the elders of her church have prayed over her. Five years ago, she was given a medical pump that intermittently releases pain medication to relieve the pain in her spine. No treatment has fully relieved her pain.
So I ask myself, “Doesn’t God care? Is He even listening? Can’t He still heal?”
Some declare that the “age of miracles” has passed. Perhaps, but the “age of Jesus” has not, for He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13). There is no shadow of change with God (James 1:17). The Holy Spirit gives to each believer at least one spiritual gift (Romans 12:4-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11), and that is not a stripped-down, economy model gift. It is the power of God made manifest in us as we use that gift to enable, encourage, energize, and edify the body of Christ (the Church) and to glorify God.
So why isn’t my wife healed? Sometimes God heals our bodies, other times our minds or our emotions. Sometimes He supplies the grace to endure. Sometimes He speaks to us through our infirmities.
Walking in the flesh (apart from God) we can do nothing (John 5:30a, John 15:5). Yet, we can do all things through Christ (Philippians 4:13, 1 Corinthians 15:57). Praise be to God that He has not left us nor forsaken us, for He has blessed us with a family, the Church, of whom Jesus Christ is the head, and we are all ministers to each other and the world!
We do believe that God still speaks. He still heals. He continues to turn men’s hearts from stone to flesh. We are thankful for the Lord’s adequate and even abundant provisions and blessings to His children.
It is hard to talk about having the spiritual GIFT of “patience in trials.” It doesn’t seem like it is in the same category as other spiritual gifts like hospitality or leadership or evangelism. We usually think of them as if they are personality traits. “This person is naturally gifted at serving, and that person is naturally good at prayer.” But no one is naturally gifted at being patient in tribulation. No one who finds themselves facing a terrible trial thinks to themselves “Oh good; I’m naturally gifted at this. This will be a breeze.” That doesn’t happen. What is natural is to panic, to despair, and to lose heart.
That being the case, in what sense is patience in trials a spiritual gift? It is a GIFT in the sense that it is the supernatural provision of the Holy Spirit empowering us to face what is in front of us. It is the power of God at work within us to do what would be impossible in our own strength.
How does a person carry on when they get a cancer diagnosis? How does a person endure another year of chronic pain? How does a person keep from losing heart when they are served divorce papers? It is God’s grace that gives us the strength to endure! It is the supernatural power of God at work within us that does something that cannot be done without Him. That is the GIFT. God’s sustaining Grace. The scriptures are filled with encouragement for the sufferer, but one particular passage that comes to mind is in Isaiah 41:10 & 13:
Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand
For I, the Lord your God,
hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not,
I am the one who helps you.”
Whether your sufferings are big or small, our God is with you. Our God is the God who says “fear not, I am the one who helps you.” Isn’t that incredible? He holds our hand in the worst this world throws at us.
When I first moved to Midland, I was in the beginning stages of one of the most significant trials in my life. It was in that season I learned the truth about God’s abundant grace that he has in store for those who trust and wait for Him. It makes all the difference in the world. In that trial, I came across a poem by Annie J. Flint that meant a lot to me, and I would like to share it here:
He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.
His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.
Should you be so interested, you should look up the life story of Annie J. Flint. When you learn just how much suffering she had to endure, it will show you just how powerful this poem is.
No matter what you are facing today, I pray you will lean into the grace that God has for you and discover the abundant riches in Jesus that he has in store for those who trust in him.
In the middle of Romans 12, Paul makes a list of spiritual gifts and encouragement to use them for the benefit of the church. If you are like me, you scan the list for your specific gift ignoring all the others because they are not “your thing.” The gift of leadership is one that most of us pass over, thinking it is for those who stand on podiums and big rocks directing others on toward the advance. The gift of leadership is far from what most of us think. Leadership is influence. It is the ability of one person to influence others. It is deposited by God into all of us no matter our personality, aptitude, or Enneagram type. And the leadership gift is wrapped in service.
Take a look at 1 Corinthians 12:28:
“And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.”
Paul gives us another list of gifts, not in contradiction to the three or four other lists of gifts he lays out in his epistles, but in compliment. Consider the two toward the end, helps and administration. Helps is another word for service and administration is another word for leadership. Paul continues in verses 29 and 30 by confirming everyone does not get all the gifts, and as he rhetorically asks the questions, he invites us to agree:
“All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?”
But he leaves out of the second list two gifts, helps and administration, or Servant Leadership. I believe he does this because every believer gets those two gifts. The reason everyone gets the gift of service and leadership is we always need them in the church. We don’t always need teaching, or healing, or tongue but we always need to be in a posture of service toward one another, and we always need to be providing Christ-like influence to one another.
So as you think about your gifting, thank God that at least two gifts are “your thing.”
Hermann Eben spoke March 10 on the gift of generosity. Here is a resource he mentioned to evaluate and grow toward higher generosity. To listen to the lesson click here.
This survey is only for you. Answer the statements by thinking about giving in all areas of your life, not just associated with church or Christian events and organizations. It does not need to be shared with anyone else. If you want to share your answers with others, it can help you and them grow toward excellence in generosity.
Directions: Please rate each statement. Give yourself the NUMBER (1, 2, 3, 4, or 5) for each line.
Rating Scale: 1 – Completely Disagree, 2 – Somewhat Disagree, 3 – Somewhat Agree, 4 –Agree, and 5 – Completely Agree
|1. I am committed to excel in the grace of giving|
|2. I am prepared to give now, not waiting for a better time|
|3. I give what I promise without complaint|
|4. I give bountifully believing I will reap bountifully|
|5. I listen primarily to what God puts in my heart to give|
|6. I don’t give as an obligation – I give freely, without response to pressure from others|
|7. I am happy and cheerful to give|
|8. I give of all things (time, talent, treasure) believing in God’s sufficiency not mine|
|9. I consider giving as impacting my eternity not just this life on earth|
|10. I let God’s blessings on me, flow on to others|
|11. I give because I am just a channel of God’s blessing to others|
|12. I give as a reminder of how much Jesus gave for and to me|
12 Questions to Help You Excel in the Grace of Giving
Before You Give (What’s Your Plan)
When You Give (What’s Your Attitude)
What You Give (What’s Given)
Why You Give (What’s Your Reason)
There is a stability to ordering our lives around compulsion. We attend a birthday celebration for a friend, knowing to bring a gift as an expression of our affection and excitement. We pass a car sitting on the roadside or a person alone in the back of the sanctuary, allowing previous decisions from a similar circumstance to govern our actions. Social and personal scripts run a considerable portion of our lives and can guide our behavior to function in the same manner as an autopay system, where we give without thought and risk mistaking these automated responses as generosity. What we stand to lose, however, is discernment, both to the voice of the Holy Spirit and the redemption of individual moments as holy.
Throughout 2 Samuel, it is frequently noted that David “inquires of the Lord” when making a decision. Rather than embracing a diplomatic judgment or evoking decisions as a display of power, David consistently seeks to place himself under a higher authority and to walk with God in a manner that exercises faith. Many of his choices, therefore, fall outside the bounds of conventional wisdom and surpass the expectations placed on a man in his position. By faith, David refuses to fight Goliath with anything but a sling. By faith, Saul’s life remains in the hands of the Lord instead of taken by the will of man. By faith, Araunah receives payment for his threshing floor so David’s sacrifice would not come at another’s expense.
These actions are generous not on any merit of the gift itself, but because faith offers them in a manner that directs all parties back to the giver of all good things. This leaves every man without excuse, as earthly limitations on the gift and the giver do not hinder the kindness of God. We, however, often oppose God’s plan by choosing to serve two masters. Like Peter, we are tempted to look around and compare what is required of us with the calling placed on a fellow believer. Fear begins to rationalize what is found lacking in faith and leads us into the mire of bargaining, justifying our selfishness, revising the definition of fairness, or believing we have nothing to give; all to which Jesus lovingly responds: “What is that to you? You follow me.” God alone knows all our needs, and it is not for us to worry or to manage meeting them in our own strength, as everyone who drinks from his own well will be thirsty again. Rather, it is our responsibility to see how the tiniest seeds entrusted to our care can be sown in faith and generously enter the soil of this world as a spiritual gift.
Today, each of us is entrusted with a unique set of decisions, circumstances, strengths, and weaknesses. To chart a wise course, we must first remember that the One who commands the wind and the waves is with us on our journey. Like David, we can take time to inquire of the Lord and realize when we are tempted to give out of compulsion rather than as an act of faith. We can choose not to justify our fear or compare our walk with God to that of our neighbor. Only then can we sow generosity wherever He leads. These seeds might look like a small adjustment in our approach to an ordinary task, a perspective shift on a person we consider to be an enemy, or a relinquishment of the keys to our storehouse of earthly treasures. Thankfully, it is not for us to determine the soil on which these seeds will fall, but to trust that every mustard seed given in faith reaps its harvest in a strength other than our own. May we continue, then, to labor in following the Spirit as he leads us into the spiritual gifts, and to redeem every moment as one where we serve with generosity in the fields of the kingdom of God.
When it comes to daily life, I like routine and order. I love my planner where I can jot down a to-do list and get a fuzzy feeling when I get to check them off. I’m reserved, detailed and enjoy making things pretty. Carl, on the other hand, likes to fly by the seat of his pants. He is spontaneous and rarely makes a checklist. He can complete a task quicker than anyone I know, and you will never meet a friendlier guy. To say that we are opposites would be an understatement. There are many cases in which this creates frustration and conflict. However, it also makes us an incredible team. And when it comes to hospitality, we make a top-notch team. We believe this is the result of a couple of different things:
First of all, our parents were wonderful examples of hospitality. My mom could make a spread out of lunch meat and veggies that made you feel like royalty. My parents were friendly company, and the house was always filled with music. It was a place that I and others loved to be. At the same time, I can’t tell you how many people have lived with Carl’s parents. A cousin, the preacher, a server they met at a restaurant, and now their parents. In different ways, our parents chose to “Serve wholeheartedly as if you were serving the Lord, not men…” (Ephesians 6:7-8). We could never have asked for a greater testimony of hospitality, and we are so thankful for their example.
Second, we believe we are a good team when it comes to hospitality because the Lord has given us that gift. All of a sudden our strengths and weaknesses begin to work together beautifully. I can set the table while he vacuums the entire house (because, yes, he’s that fast!). I can make the detailed guest list, and he can make them feel welcome.
While hosting is something we have always done, over the years the gift of hospitality has manifested in different ways. Sometimes its dinner with family or friends. Sometimes its parties, hosting our InGroup or letting my sister spend a couple of nights. It’s backyard BBQ’s, game night, lending tools from the garage and coffee always waiting to be brewed. In recent years it’s also come in the form of Passover Seders at the church. The bottom line is we love to create an inviting atmosphere for people to come in, feel welcome and learn something about our awesome God. While these are all things that we will continue to do, we are also seeking the Lord and how he would have us open our hearts and home in new ways in the future.
Much of our days are characterized by looking right through other people in our efforts to fulfill our own concerns. We have items on a “mental list” that we consider in need of being done. The outcome is we rarely see what is of need in those we come across. Or in our spouses, for that matter, or in our co-workers, in the life of the community we dwell in, or, more importantly, in the kingdom of God.
The Scriptures are permeated with the activity of God, and in all of His activity there is a focal point at which His work is aimed. The peculiar and amazing aspect of God’s activity is that He has seen fit to operate through other people. Through us. The Christian discipline of service is the way the world discovers the love of God. And God has been working all along for this end.
The Lord says in Genesis 18:18, “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.” Jesus came as the perfect Israel to the earth as the one who serves (Lk. 22:27). He calls us to serve (Matt. 22:37-39). At the heart of service, we act from a deep care for the One who is Good and for His kingdom. We love Him because He first loved us. Out of our love for Him, we love others by the spending of our own goods and energy to promote the good of others without any personal, expected return. This is what we call service.
This is the role God asks us to play. To spend our energies “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12-13).
However, until we can see the needs of our neighbors as truly important, we will never really serve others. The times in my life when I ceased desiring to serve others were when I was caught up with myself and my needs. This lack of seeing the needs of others was preceded by a lack in learning who my God is and what His loving-kindness is like through His actions towards me. Likewise, unless we learn to meet with God in our days and commune with Him, we will struggle in giving our time and resources to others.
Unless we learn from God what is of true value and where the good life really is, we will not know how to see others as we ought. For serving is grounded in seeing, as A. A. Calhoun remarks. Prayer must be first before service can pave the way. Our love alone will not be strong enough to bear with the world. This is why the apostle Peter exhorts us that “whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Pet. 4:11).
What does prayer mean to you? Is it a spiritual discipline? A gift? A calling? Is it a box to check off each day, or is it your life’s blood?
There isn’t just one way to describe prayer, but I can tell you what it isn’t. Prayer is not meant to be a wishlist, a way to manipulate God or others, boring, or just for certain people.
So what is prayer, then? I like to think of it as talking with God. It’s sharing everything with Him and expecting to hear from Him. Through prayer, we can know and do God’s will and view all our experiences as shared with Him. I like what Richard Foster says of prayer: “To pray is to change…In prayer, real prayer, we begin to think God’s thoughts after Him: to desire the things He desires, to love the things He loves, to will the things He wills.”
If you had told me 18 months ago that God was about to change my life through prayer, I would have shrugged it off as a strange thought, and I for sure wouldn’t have prayed about it. In September of 2017 God gently yet firmly let me know through a series of conversations with Him that my perception about prayer was wrong: sinful. I was greatly humbled by this painful awakening, and after confessing and repenting my next response was, “Jesus, please teach me about prayer.” He graciously gave me more than I could have asked or thought. As I took baby steps of obedience and surrender, He gave me personal lessons on how to gain His wisdom, abide in Him, and have more of Him. And for the first time in 20 years of walking with Him, I desired these things above everything else in my life.
At that point, I was two years into an already life-altering inward spiritual journey that was forged in deep grief. Through those two years, I had begged God for more of Him and His nearness and clung with white knuckles to this promise: “The righteous cry and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted; He saves those who are crushed in spirit.” -Psalm 34:17-18
I began pleading for His wisdom, and He gave (and continues giving) it freely…
“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” -James 1:5
And I discovered what true abiding is…
“If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free…and if the Son makes you free, you are free indeed.” -John 8:31-32, 36
Today as I daily seek to abide in Christ, I find myself craving and sacrificing for more focused time with Him. Throughout the gospels, I see Jesus frequently going “off to a lonely place” to be with the Father, and I understand why: it is where spiritual blessings abound. I have also been training my mind to (as my favorite monk Brother Lawrence calls it) “practice the presence of God” throughout the day. Although I fail often, it has become something I never want to stop striving for.
I encourage everyone to seek more of God through prayer. Not sure where to begin? Do as the disciples did and ask Jesus how He wants you to pray. (Remember, James 1:5 tells us He will give wisdom generously to those who ask!) God will use His Word and the Holy Spirit to teach you. Shift your focus from yourself, your shortcomings, or your past onto God (Isaiah 26:3), and expect to hear from Him (John 16:13-14, 1 Cor. 2:9-13).
Come to Wednesday Night Worship and Prayer time (7 PM in the sanctuary). Try a morning and/or evening devotional that focuses on gratitude and praise. Start a prayer journal, recording everything from requests to laments to answers you get to see on this side of heaven. Make prayer cards and pray through 3-4 each day. Have a family prayer time and teach your children to join you. Everyone can put Romans 12:1-2 into action by practicing the presence of God throughout your day. You can do this by asking yourself, “Does this activity/conversation lead me to God?”
God desires a deep relationship with you. And believe me, you want it too! It was those who followed closest to Jesus, truly seeking and abiding in Him, who received the deeper things, the most intimacy, and the fullest joy. The benefits of orienting your life around God through prayer are endless and far outweigh the sacrifices and growing pains that come with a life being continually transformed by Him.