Over these two weeks we’re looking at God’s plan for us in the New Year. Last week we spoke a little bit about finding our new identity. God’s plan is not for us to have the same goals as the world, but to identify ourselves by what He’s done in and for us. This week we’re going to be talking about establishing new patterns.
I’ll start by saying, we all want to get ahead in life – better body, fuller bank account, more friends; but the means that we go about achieving those goals often leave us feeling emptier, tired-er, and downhearted.
One reason is because we usually start from a wrong foundation. When achieving those things are so that we can impress our neighbours, we often find them to be a negative, harsh audience. But when achieving those things are so that we can impress our heavenly Father, well that is life.
Paul says in Romans 2:6-8, “God will ‘give to each person according to what he has done.’ To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life. But to for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.”
As I said last week, we might plan to do all kinds of great things this year, and we may even achieve them, but we won’t find happiness in achieving those goals if God isn’t in them and over them.
So let’s look at three important practices that we need to get in place if we want to achieve – achieve not just for our workmates, friends and neighbours, but achieve for God. And just in case you think it’s not worth it, there’s nothing more important than achieving for the Lord!
GET IN THE WORD
GET IN PRAYER
Say it with me.
What is this book called?
It’s called a Bible – the Word of God.
The word ‘Bible’ has been getting thrown around a lot lately. People speak about this book being the IT guy’s bible, or that book being the craftsman’s bible; and none are ever this Bible but they’re always using it to mean that this or that book is useful for instruction in all areas of the person’s job or hobby.
Well, this Bible useful too. But not just to succeed in one or two tasks, but in all areas of life.
But in order for God’s Word to be useful in our lives, we need to study and know it. It doesn’t help one bit to have a Bible if we are not using it as a guide for every area of our lives.
Let me illustrate. Sometimes you’ll get an old cookbook handed down to you from your mother or grandmother, and then maybe a Bible from your father.
Imagine that the Bible is the family Bible – pristine, untouched, masterfully made and masterfully kept. But the cookbook is falling apart. Almost every page is dog-eared. There is 50-year old stains on it. Half the ingredients from your grandmother’s wedding cake are smeared across page 30.
Two books. Your mom and your grandmother are great cooks and excellent bakers; and your dad and granddad’s Christianity leave a bad taste in your mouth.
What’s the difference? The one saw the book as a tool; the other saw it as a statement.
The Bible is not a statement, it’s a tool. It’s a means to an end, not an end in itself. Many of us sit with multiple Bibles at home, but none of the Word in our hearts. We’re not living the way God intended. Why is that?
God requires us to be good handlers of His Word.
2 Timothy 2:15 tells us to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”
Are you a good handler of God’s Word? Are you reading it? Are you studying it?
Let me tell you, this is not the ‘Preachers’ book’. This is God’s Word to you, and you, and you. Are you working to present yourself to God approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
One day, when you stand before God for judgment, you will not be standing behind the pastor, nor behind your wife or husband or parents. You will stand before God, naked and alone. Will you then be unashamed?
So God’s Word is for us to study, but it’s also incredibly practical for everyday life.
Psalm 119:105 “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
When we need to make a decision in life, we should go to God’s Word for guidance. It should be the plumb line according to which we measure our lives. Do you know how a plumb line works? If you’re building a house, you put up a string with a weight attached and you build your wall along the line to make sure it’s straight and the house will be solid.
We need to do the same with the Word of God. When we have decisions to make, to pull out God’s Word and see how we ought to live. If you want a building that’s skew and dangerous, you build without a plumb line. And if you want a life that’s straight and strong, you build with the Word of God as a regular and clear guide.
Jesus said that anyone who hears His word and does not live according to it is like a fool who builds his house on sand. When the waves come up and the rain comes down, that man’s house will come crashing down destroying all he holds valuable with it.
But anyone who hears His word and lives according to it is like a wise man who builds his house on a rock. When the waves come up and the rain comes down, that man’s house stands firm.
And so living according to God’s word is not without great blessing. Joshua 1:8 reminds us of this “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
Are you in God’s Word, daily taking from it the instructions you need to live a life pleasing to our Creator?
Say it with me.
Who can tell me what prayer is?
Prayer is talking to God – our way of communication with the One who orders the steps of our lives.
Prayer is for all people. Prayer was obviously a very important matter for our Lord Jesus. We have many instances in the gospel accounts of Him going aside to pray by Himself. And He also taught a lot about prayer.
Luke 11:9 “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
Mark 11:24 “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
John 15:7 “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
Even Jesus prayed. It says in Mark 1:35 “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”
What do you think He prayed about? That’s an interesting question. We do know what He prayed about on other occasions. In each one it would seem that Jesus’ prayers were centred on the mission God had given Him. After praying, He would move on to a new area, or He would name His deputies, or He would do whatever God had called Him to do.
If God has a plan and a mission for us, then we need to be in prayer, finding out what He wants us to do.
Imagine that the world is at war. You’re on the front lines, hugging down in a trench, hoping not to get obliterated by the next mortar bomb. Then the commander in chief is suddenly in the trench next to you, giving you orders.
“Go,” He says. “Where to?” you ask. “Just go, and I’ll lead you safely with this walkie-talkie. I’ll also give you your instructions and final goal as you go, but you need to go now.”
And He sends you out.
You start running as fast as you can, but you’re so busy looking for trees to hide behind that you don’t bother to turn the walkie-talkie on. You might safely make it a far distance, but you might also be going in the wrong direction.
God leads us on our mission through prayer. He gives us our instructions through prayer. And we can ask Him for the tools that we need for His mission through prayer.
Is that how you view prayer? How do you view prayer?
God has given us prayer so that we can stay close to our Commander in Chief, so that we can ask what we need from Him and receive it, so that we can be safe from the hot-zones of temptation and failure.
One important point I want to make on the topic of prayer: Prayer calls for a GOOD RELATIONSHIP with GOD.
Proverbs 15:29 “The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.”
Psalm 34:17 “When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.”
Psalm 145:18-19 “The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfils the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.”
Isaiah 59:2 “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”
These passages, and many others besides, show that if we would talk to God and receive from Him the help or provision that we need, we must be in a right place with Him.
And it makes sense, doesn’t it?
Imagine you have a daughter in high school who is absolutely rebellious. From the moment she gets up in the morning it’s like a dark cloud descends on anything within 3 feet of her. She sulks through breakfast, complains about the packed lunch you’ve made for her, and doesn’t say a word on the way to school. When you get to school you tell her you love her and wish her a good day at school, and she ignores you and slams the door in your face.
After school you hope her attitude’s changed, but it hasn’t. She doesn’t greet you, doesn’t ask how you are, she doesn’t thank you for the lift home, but just walks to her room and shuts the door and listens to music.
Around the dinner table you try and make conversation and all her answers are one liners. She makes it abundantly clear that she has no time for you and sees your questions as burdens. She’s also talking to her friends on whatsapp and ignoring most of what you say.
You are at your wits end…
Suddenly, she brightens up, looks straight at you and says, “Aww, Mommy, Daddy, can you please drive me to my friends after dinner? They’re studying for the Maths test at Clearwater.” And you know what’s behind that smile. She simply wants to go hang out with her friends at the mall. Would you drive her there?
And yet with God sometimes we think that we can live our own lives in our own ways in rebellion towards God, but still expect His blessings – still expect Him to give us what we ask for. It doesn’t work that way – at all.
James 4:2-3 (ERV) “You want things, but you don’t get them. So you kill and are jealous of others. But you still cannot get what you want. So you argue and fight. You don’t get what you want because you don’t ask God. Or when you ask, you don’t receive anything, because the reason you ask is wrong. You only want to use it for your own pleasure.”
So God will not pour out His blessings on a person who is living in rebellion against Him.
But God does make it clear that if we would walk in His ways, and live for Him, that He will give us what we need for our lives.
1 John 3:22 “And whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.”
So if you want to achieve this year, the first step is to GET IN THE WORD; the second is to GET IN PRAYER; and the third is:
GET IN FELLOWSHIP
Say it with me.
This one I’ve been looking forward to sharing! If you would like to see growth and change happening in your life, you need to GET IN FELLOWSHIP.
Maybe it would seem like I’m preaching to the choir here tonight. You are the ones that brave the dark and come out for a second time in one day because you love the service.
But I want to say that fellowship is more than simply attending Church; it’s about building deep and abiding relationships with godly men and women that will help you to overcome challenges and endure through tough times. Repeat.
Listen to what it says in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
That passage is often used in marriage ceremonies, and you can see why. But it doesn’t just apply to a married couple.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. Two people working towards the same goal can achieve more than one person reaching for a goal.
If they fall, one will lift up his fellow.
There have many, many times on my spiritual journey when I have stumbled, and sometimes fallen quite hard.
I’ve wanted to give up; I’ve wanted to quit; I’ve wanted to run in another direction; I’ve wanted to stay down…
And I thank God for the friends He’s placed around me who have lifted me up in those times. People with an encouraging word, or with a comforting word, or even with a harsh word at times. If it hadn’t been for them, I wouldn’t be here today.
But to have that support, I needed to GET IN FELLOWSHIP. I needed to find people who I could rely on, and then I had to be willing to be vulnerable and open my life up to their inspection.
And through rough times and good, that opening up deepened my friendships with these people, who have become my greatest pillars of strength, given to me by God for the purpose of continuing on this journey.
God has created the Church, in part, to support one another on the walk. That brother sitting next to you, he’s there to support you. The lady behind you is there to support you on the long and difficult walk. The Christian journey is not an easy one. God has never called us to walk it alone.
So I say, GETTING IN FELLOWSHIP is MORE than simply attending Church – it is about building deep and abiding relationships with godly men and women that will help you to overcome challenges and endure through tough times.
And there will be tough times! Life in and of itself is tough, but the Christian life is not an easy one. It requires giving yourself to others, though they treat you with contempt. It requires forgiving those that don’t deserve forgiveness. It requires being a witness of joy to others when circumstances pull you down.
It requires speaking when you’d rather be quiet, being quiet when you’d rather speak; going when you’d rather stay, and staying when you’d rather go; it requires more than 2 hours on a Sunday, it requires your heart and soul and body.
The Christian life is not an easy one my friend. If you find that it’s easy, that’s not good news for you. But if you find that you’re living a life pleasing to God and encountering many of the unique challenges that comes with that, GET IN FELLOWSHIP, because you can’t do it on your own, nor are you meant to.
If you want to diet, it’s much easier to diet with someone who is stronger than you to lift you up when you’re weak. If you want to gym, it’s much easier to gym with someone who is more enduring than you, who will pick you up at 5am if you want to quit. If you want to study, it’s much easier to partner with someone who will hold you accountable.
And if you want to live a godly life pleasing to the Lord, it’s much easier if you are walking with others who will lift you up, carry you, encourage you, warn and rebuke you, challenge you and express God’s love to you through the good and the bad times.
God calls us to GET IN FELLOWSHIP
Tonight I really want to challenge you to put these three practices in place this year. I would call them the supporting structure.
If your supporting structure is strong, then you can build a big and beautiful building. But some bad contractors simply want a beautiful building and they compromise on the structure in order to achieve it. Those buildings collapse, and many might die in the collapse.
As you seek to achieve this year, and to achieve is good, don’t focus on the end result, the frills and awards and whatever else. Focus on putting these three steps in place, and I promise you will achieve more than you could dream. Trust that God will take care of the rest. Be satisfied with the results of your efforts.
Let’s pray together.