Tonight we’re finishing off our series that we started two weeks ago called Stand Bravely – asking the question: how do I stand for God in a culture that’s hostile towards Him?
And it’s not easy. In most workplaces today you can swear and curse, smoke and tell drunken stories, you can lie and steal – but if you bow your head to pray over your meal you’ll be looked at as a kook.
But God’s call throughout history, from Adam’s time till now, is to trust Him and to seek Him. Our culture largely doesn’t encourage the pursuit of the one true God. You might find that if you stand for God, you stand alone.
But you’re not alone if you choose to live for God; because God promises to be with you if you live for Him. Our key verse for this series comes from Joshua 1:9, “Be strong and courageous. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
So last week we spoke about how to stand strong for God in the face of temptation, and about how to stand out for God by being excellent, by being moral, by being prayerful, and by having a good attitude in the face of injustice.
Tonight we’re going to be finishing off this series which I was inspired to do by a Francis Chan series called Courageous by talking about how to Stand Tall for God.
The Bible describes the devil as a thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy. His plan and purpose is to destroy your relationship with God and steal your ability and desire to lead others into relationship with God. As you reach up to God, he’s there to take a swipe at your legs to bring you down and keep you down.
So how to you stand tall for God when the devil and the world and our own flesh is trying so hard to knock you to the ground?
We’ll be talking about that tonight. Please turn with me to 2 Timothy 2:22 which will be a handle for us as we cover tonight’s topic.
My key verse for tonight’s message comes from 2 Timothy which tells us: “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
[Pictures of ‘trust me I’m an engineer’.] – These things can be used for these purposes, but that’s not what they are made for. Question: What were you made for? What were you given life for? What’s your purpose? What plans does God have for you? Because you can use up your life in various ways, but you won’t find all jobs and activities as ‘fitting’ and life-giving as the one you were created for.
A few years ago, while I was still at college, I started working as a waiter at a restaurant on weekends to earn a little extra money. Well, that was one of the reasons. One of the other reasons was that it gave me an arena where I could interact with non-Christians. I was looking for an area of front-line ministry. And that’s what I found.
My fellow waiters were not the most ethical types. A number of them had developed a way of stealing food and wine from the restaurant without getting caught. We all knew it was going on, but nobody would say anything about it. Even the managers knew, so they put a tax on all the waiters to cover the stolen items. So essentially the first hour of each work day was spent paying for someone else’s drinks.
In that environment, I stood out as someone different. I didn’t swear, or steal, and I didn’t tell crude sex-stories as we polished glasses around the table. I was different. And so some of them made it their goal to, in their words, ‘corrupt’ me. They would purposefully talk to me about sex in a crude way, or offer me stolen cans, or show me pornography on their phones. They made it their goal to break me down.
So what makes you strong enough to stand up? Well there’s two things I want to tell you tonight. Firstly I want to start by saying that your purpose will strengthen your perseverance.
Let me ask you again: What were you made for? What were you given life for? What’s your purpose? What plans does God have for you?
Maybe you’re like these props that we showed you earlier. Now if you took a washing machine and used it to be a cement mixer every day – how long do you think it would be before it conks out? It won’t last long in that position. Not only will its lifespan be short, but it’ll also be a painful demise. It’ll be uncomfortable all the time, it’ll break apart one small piece at a time.
How many of you feel like that at work right now? Uncomfortable all the time, being broken down one small piece at a time.
Maybe, like these props, you need to figure out what your purpose is.
If I had gone into my position as a waiter thinking that my purpose was to be a waiter, I would have hated that job. I loved to serve but I hate to sell, and the best waiters are great salesmen. They can talk a group into a more expensive wine then they’d intended, or a family into dessert they hadn’t intended. And the more they sell, the better the tips they make.
I was a terrible salesman, so my tips were on the meagre side. If that was my entire purpose in that job, I would have felt like a failure every day. I would have felt like that washing machine cranking away at a load of cement and stones, uncomfortable, breaking away one small piece at a time. I wouldn’t have lasted long.
But I knew that wasn’t my purpose. Making money was a purpose, but it wasn’t the purpose. What I was actually doing there was looking for opportunities each day to share God’s Gospel with these fellow workers. I was going to do it through acts of love and service, through right living, and when the opportunity rose up, I would share with them God’s message.
In that way, every day was a success. Every day was a success because whether my tips were high or my tips were low, whether I’d been put onto a high-profile table or low, whether the customers had been kind or cruel, I had been God’s light where otherwise there would have been darkness.
What’s your purpose in your work place?
You might not be a speaker, as I am. So maybe your purpose in the workplace isn’t to shine God’s light through words. It might be through gifts, or through acts of service, or through forgiveness.
What helps to remind you to live your purpose, to live for God and not for the rat race is when we work in a job that suits our giftings.
What has God gifted you to do? Are you working in an environment that suits your God-given – not just university-certificated – skills? If you are, you’re probably living in your purpose.
Maybe, like these props, you’re trying to figure out what your purpose is. Maybe there’s not just one way to serve him. Maybe, as you think creatively and pray, you’ll find some unique ways to use what you’ve been given.
Another way to stand tall is by holy living. When you know you’re living right, the devil can make all kind of accusations but you can stand tall because you know that God knows who you are. So we stand tall by holy living.
We all know what holy living means in terms of avoiding sin. But holy living includes pursuing, not just fleeing. Holy living involves pursuing God and the things of God, not just fleeing sin and the problems of sin.
When I was a youngster in the faith (still am, still growing), I thought that all that God required from me – all that God really wanted from me, was for me to stop sinning. That would make God happy. So I battled to stop lying, I battled to stop being lazy, I battled to stop being hurtful with my words.
But that’s not all God has for me or for you. It’s incredibly one-sided.
If your sense of holy living is wrapped up in your do’s and don’t’s, you can never be happy. There’s a legalism there. And it sucks life from you this way: You can avoid lying for 1 day, 2 days, but when the time comes that you actually lie again – and you know that you have – it oftentimes leaves you feeling disheartened.
And because none of us like to feel like that, we spend our whole lives fleeing – fleeing sin, fleeing feelings of shame and discomfort.
But the Christian life is only partly about fleeing, we are also to pursue.
The Bible tells us: “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
That means finding out what God wants you to do and doing it with all of your heart!
Tonight I want to introduce you to three characters from the Bible, and I want you to see what their God-given abilities were, how they used these abilities to influence others, and how that impacted others.
Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:1-4; 24-26; Romans 16:3-5; 1 Corinthians 16:19)
The Bible talks about this power couple called Aquila and Priscilla. They were an Italian couple that moved down to Corinth in Asia because of persecution they had experienced back home.
They were makers of tents. We know that Paul also was a maker of tents, and so when Paul ran into them one day he stayed with them and helped them in their business.
Aquila and Priscilla made tents as a way to bring in an income to survive on. It was a tough and time-consuming task. But they knew that as citizens of God’s kingdom, they were also called by their king to be involved in kingdom work. In what ways did they do that?
Firstly, they were involved in discipleship. They had a group of people who met to worship and encourage each other in their house, and they were also constantly on the lookout for seekers of God to guide them in their journey.
One of these seekers was a man called Apollos. Apollos was a vibrantly gifted preacher. The Bible even tells us that he had a thorough knowledge of Scripture. But his knowledge wasn’t complete, because he only knew about John’s baptism.
When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they invited him to their home and explained the way of God more adequately.
Now Aquila and Priscilla were full-time tentmakers. That was their day job. But that wasn’t their identity. Their identity was in Christ. They were followers of Christ first, and tentmakers second. They were full-time Christians, and part-time makers of tents.
They knew that holy living was much more than just learning to avoid sin, it was about finding God’s intended work for them in the kingdom and doing that.
This recognition of their deeper identity led them to study God’s word more and more deeply, until they were able to teach others God’s way.
Those they taught were then able to go and teach others, and have a mighty, fruitful ministry.
The kingdom isn’t made up entirely of Apollos’s, or entirely of Pauls, or entirely of Spurgeons, or William Carreys – but someone had to lead Carrey to Christ; someone had to encourage Paul, and someone had to train up Apollos.
You and I might not be a Billy Graham – speaking to millions and millions of people about the Gospel. But are we so sold out on the truth of what Jesus has done that we’re training ourselves up to be better used by God in the kingdom?
Barnabas (Acts 4:36; 9:26-27; 11:22-26; 15:36-40)
There are a number of remarkable stories we have about Barnabas in the Bible. Firstly we know that his name wasn’t Barnabas, but Joseph. I guess he was given the name Barnabas because he was a great encourager. He was one of the first followers of Christ in the early Church.
We also know that Barnabas was a giver. Barnabas sold a field that he owned and gave the money to the Church.
We also know that Barnabas had the great ability to see beyond the outward appearance of things, and to see things not as they were but as they could be. When Saul, the great persecutor of the Church, having been converted to Christ on the way to Damascus, came to Jerusalem and was shunned by the Apostles, Barnabas saw the Paul that God had transformed him into, and vouched for him in the Church.
Maybe God has given you this ability – to see people as they could be. Where others will look at a trouble-making child, you see a ready vessel, open to be filled with Christ and used by Christ in His kingdom. Where others see a homeless man, you see a child of God as hungry and desperate for God’s salvation as anyone else. Where others see a thief, you see a lost sheep that God wants to bring into His fold and transform for His glory.
Because Barnabas saw Paul not as he was but as he could be, many millions were impacted for God’s kingdom.
Tabitha (Acts 9:36-43)
Tabitha, like Lazarus, is most famous for dying. Maybe you have this spiritual gift?
Tabitha was a follower of Jesus who had a very humble ministry. She wasn’t a great preacher – she didn’t run multitudes of ministries – she didn’t (so far as we know) lead a Church or disciple many great people.
But Tabitha had this cool gift: She could make clothes. And so that’s what she did. She made clothes and gave them to people who needed it. No doubt this was time consuming and sometimes costly to her, but that’s what she could do so that’s what she did.
What can you do? Maybe you think that you have no place in the Church because you aren’t a charismatic character – you don’t stand out like others do. You don’t like standing in front of people. You don’t feel you can start and lead a ministry. So what place is there in the Church.
It might seem small, but brother or sister if God has given you a quiet, unobtrusive gift and you use it for Him then you will be celebrated in heaven more passionately than some men or women who have spoken to millions.
How do I know this? Well look at what Jesus said to his disciples when they were sitting at the temple. Jesus had been watching the giving, and said nothing until the old widow brought two copper coins and placed them in the giving basket. Jesus said that she had given more than all the rest, because she had been faithful in the little she had.
I am quite convinced of this: If you are obedient to God’s calling, you are greater in His sight than anyone who leads a Church of tens of thousands who God had actually called to something else.
So Tabitha simply made clothes. And then she died. God chose to raise her from the dead, and this became known all over and ‘many people believed in the Lord’.
My friends, if God will use your death to bring people to Him, then why are you so worried that He can’t use your life?
We sometimes moan ‘oh, God won’t use me, God isn’t using me, I keep failing’ – God can use a donkey, a fish, a child, and dead people – you don’t even have to be alive for God to use you. Why are you worried?
But what we learn from Tabitha is this: In your life, do whatever comes to hand to benefit God’s Church, and God sees that and will reward it.
We don’t have time to look at other remarkable characters like Timothy, Lydia, Stephen, Philip, Silas, and many, many more who used their gifts and talents to build up the kingdom of Christ where they could.
But your name could be added to the list. Can you make meals for the saints, can you write notes of encouragement, can you be a giver, can you be a teacher, can you be a pray-er, can you build for Christ, clean for Christ, can you sew and mend for Christ, can you sing for Christ. Whatever you do, in whatever way you can: Build God’s kingdom. It might not seem like much to you, it might not be high-profile and noticed by many, but if you give of your time and talent, God most certainly sees that and blesses it.
Holy living includes pursuing, not just fleeing. What kingdom work is God calling you to pursue? If you live pursuing, that will help you to Stand Tall for Christ in a world that’s against Him.
Brothers and sisters, I encourage you tonight to stand tall for God. Find what calling God has for you – yes, you. Find out what God is calling you to do, and do it with all of your heart. As you do, you’ll build up the Church and you’ll delight God’s heart, and you’ll also find that peace and life and joy that is uniquely yours as you walk in the path that is uniquely yours.