Friday, July 30, 2010

Faith in action

Hello, I'm glad you are back with me - it's so good to know we are on this journey together.

Let's begin with prayer so the Holy Spirit can move powerfully in this study, giving us insight and gentle nudges in the right direction: Lord, thank you for bringing us together to study Your Word and Your ways. We ask that Your Holy Spirit direct us in this study. Let each time we meet and seek You in this way, be a life-changing spark of joy, wisdom, and change! In the name of Jesus, amen.

Have you made changes in the way you treat others as a result of this study? I really want to hear about it. There is a comment form at the end of each post, please share with me and if you like, with all of us!

 Today we are going to put our growing faith and knowledge into action. Galatians 5:6 says that it is faith that enables us to put love into action! Sure, anyone can do a good deed, but often it is done in the expectation of getting something in return. Many Christians are kind to others and give to the church and the needy in expectation of a heavenly reward, or earthly blessing. God is very clear that these are "works of the flesh," meaning for ourselves, not for him (no matter our good intentions) and that we are not saved as a result of good works.

Read Ephesians 2:8-9.

Doing good to please God might seem like a tight-rope walk. On the one hand, we know God desires us to help people and it pleases Him for us to do so. However, God strongly warns us that He is most concerned with our motives behind the help, not with the act itself. It is about who we are, not what we do.
Read 1Corinthians 13:1-3.

Look, God can end poverty on His own, in fact, He promises to do so for all eternity when He brings His plan for humanity to fruition with the return of His Son, Jesus Christ. In the meantime, He is not without compassion, but works in each of us to desire to help others out of love.

So, is the good you have done out of selfish motives wasted? Well, no, someone still got helped. But like any good parent, God loves us and is training us to mature in our motives, to have compassion as a function of love for others, not for ourselves.

Look at it this way: if your spouse, child, or friend is always doing great things for you then expecting or demanding you do something in return, do you appreciate (or even want) their good works in the future? No, because no one likes to be manipulated. But, when someone calls you up and says, "I was thinking about you today and I really want to spend some time with you. Can I take you out to lunch and just pamper you today? It would really make me happy to show you some appreciation!" That would just make your day, I bet.

So you say, but I want to obey God and do good things (works) to help other people! If that is your true motivation, great - God loves obedience just like parents love obedience. But, He wants you to obey out of love and respect for Him, not only because He is our authority and we do what we are told.

What about helping other people because it is the "right" thing to do? That's fine but you are doing it to obey a "law" not out of love.

What about doing good works because I can't stand to see other people suffering? Also good but done to make yourself feel better, not out of love.

What about doing good works because God says in His Word that we need to support those who are "feeding" us the Word of God , and making their life work be preaching, teaching, and acting as a "storehouse" to distribute resources to the poor, the orphans and the widows? Also good, important, and necessary, but God says good acts done without love certainly help people, but do not earn favor with Him.

Lastly, what about promises that our financial gifts, our tithes, will be re-payed us ten-fold? I spend a lot of years giving every extra cent to good churches and charities because I not only wanted to please God, but also believed this "prosperity preaching" that was popular until recently. There's more to it, but it leads us to assume God is obligated to reward us financially for any financial gifts we make to a ministry.

Now, who doesn't want to be prosperous? The problem is that I am aware of nowhere in His Word  that God promises financial reward in exchange for every financial gift. Scripture is sometimes, I fear, taken out of context.

Yes, God instructs us to "lay something aside" for the support of ministers and the church work (1Corinthians 16:2 and Romans 12:13); to give to the poor (many verses including Luke 3:11 and Matthew 5:41-42); to visit orphans and widows (the original meaning of this Greek word is "oversee," meaning to look after - James 1:27).

Yes, historically God has prospered multiple people who have obeyed his instructions and followed His ways. However it is important to remember that we were created for God; God was not created for us, or to serve us, or bless us in the way we demand. What we can depend on is that God promises to all of us rewards of His choosing; blessings of His definition; prosperity (financially or spiritually) in His timing. We get into trouble when we think we can manipulate God, even with the best intentions.

Read 1 Samuel 16:7b "For the Lord does not ___ as man sees, for man looks at the __________ appearance, but the Lord looks at the __________."

So, does that mean we are not supposed to try and please God? No, dear heart, it means faith must fuel our desire to be loving, not a desire to get anything in return from people or from God. I want my husband to help me because he loves me, and it pleases him to see me happy, not because he wants me to be obligated to him. Do you feel the same in your relationships and friendship?

Has anyone ever been nice to you in order to manipulate you? Tell me how that felt:

Are you getting yet that God wants your heart, your love, and your passion, not just cold obedience?

In The Revolution Devotional Workbook and Field Journal, Joyce Meyer asks us to consider what we would do if we had that kind of intensity in our love for God, which then cannot help but be translated into a pure love for other people. I completed this portion of the study a while back, and here is some of what I wrote:

The creative things I'd do to accomplish my goal of being passionate about helping:

1. Create a bible study for others based on my own study of God's Word, in easy to understand terms and personal transparency - this is it!

2. Include my family in bible study, welcome their questions and interruptions, so they can see being in God's Word is a joyful, family activity, not something I do alone. It feels good to know I am building their love bank with my kindness, and allowing them to see bible study does not take me away from them, it gives them a nicer me.

3. Submit (willingly give) myself daily to be helpful first to my own husband and children, and then also to others. It is so easy to forget that our loved ones should have our most loving behavior - not our most inconsiderate expectations - and I want to show my love first to those I love most.

For me, this means intentionally being kind to my husband, even when I feel aggravated by his requests. I honestly don't have the same love language as my husband so some of the things he enjoys from me I find silly. But, that is only because I value different acts of love. God has led me to realize that if I love my husband, I will learn to get pleasure from doing things that make him happy, not just those that are easy for me to do.

God has also prompted me to take an attitude of "why not" towards my kids. In other words, unless I have a really good reason to say no, then "why not?!" For example, "Mom, can we move the swing set to the front yard where there is shade and out of the hot, sunny backyard? Why not." "Mom, can we paint (making a mess on the kitchen table and floor that I will probably have to help clean up)? Why not." "Mom, can we invite friends over? Why not." Get the point?

4. Call or write people I care about, and be less "busy" when they want to talk to me. If someone needs help, and I can help, do it. This doesn't mean getting out of balance and never saying no, it means for me being less self-centered and seeking to show my love by being able to be inconvenienced more often.

5. Be kind and focus on my relationships when I am getting things done. I really need God's prompting here, because I am a task-oriented person, not a relationship-oriented person. Because of my upbringing, and my personality, I feel worth and validation from accomplishing tasks. Cross it off my list, survey all of my completed work, and sigh with satisfaction, that's me!

Sometimes that leads me to be less-sensitive to the feelings of others than I could be. It's not about being mean, I say please and thank you. It's just that when I get into task-mode, I make a plan, and let everyone know how to proceed to accomplish things in the most productive way (my husband calls it "barking orders"). I just want to get it done and get on with it! It's frustrating for me when others hold up the train with petty disagreements, balking at having to help out, or in other ways have to talk about their feelings about it all. Argh - can't we just get it done and talk about it later???

Some of you are right on that train with me, am I right? Well, the problem is that my way can really step on the feelings of people like my husband, who are relationship-oriented, and for whom resolving the conflicts about a situation is necessary before they are ready to take action. It's about believing someone else's needs are just as important as my own. Does he ever step on my toes? Don't get me started. But, the more I focus on love, the less I get offended.

What will you do now? If you don't have a Field Journal, write it here and share it in the comments if you'd like:

Remember that I told you that of the 10% of people who achieve their goals, 90% of them wrote them down? Don't be surprised if you take a look back in a week or two and find you have most of your list accomplished!

Let's say goodbye for now with prayer:

Father, I am so excited about the changes you are making in me and in the lives of everyone in this study! It feels so good to do things that make the people I love, feel loved. I see more and more that I am being blessed ten-fold, in far better ways than just financially. In fact, I feel like I have more money now because I am able to give to others without counting my possible return!

Lord, You do promise that if we seek You instead of worrying about having enough money, enough food, and enough clothing to satisfy our desires, that not only will we find You, but lo and behold, You will make sure we have all those other things as well. Lord, give each of us the faith to stop worrying about the future, and instead seek a deeper relationship with You. Give us the ability to trust You to take care of our needs here on earth. Help us to value what You value: love. In Jesus' name, amen.

Love, Karen

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