Despite all of our divisions and denominations, the great test for every Christian is the test of love. Can we love without judging, when our brother believes differently than we do? Can we rejoice in the preaching of the gospel by those "less qualified" than ourselves? Can we allow for differences of opinion and interpretation while still agreeing on the essentials of the faith?
This is the great test for every Christian: not simply to preach the gospel ourself, but to allow others to preach Christ in the knowledge they have attained, however limited. Paul recognized this in his letter to the Philippians. Instead of being upset by those who preached Christ out of "selfish ambition" or even contention, he rejoiced that the gospel was being preached at all! (See Philippians 1:15-18). Sometimes, even those who attack our faith end up drawing more attention to it, instead of causing its demise.
The plight of Kim Davis, a town clerk in Kentucky (who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples), is a good example of this. As Christians, whether we believe her course of action is right or wrong, we should still rejoice that attention is being drawn to the gospel, forcing people to re-evaluate what they believe and to dig deeper to find out what the Bible says about such issues.
The simple, timeless truth is that we are not called to be masters of theology, but to master love for our neighbors. The golden rule of Christianity applies to everyone, not just to some. When we become absorbed in semantics and arguments over words, we have lost the essence of the gospel message. Each of us must walk with God to the degree or level that we have attained, says Paul, making sure that we share the unity of mind that characterizes mature believers. (See Philippians 3:16).
It is up to God to reveal the areas where we are in error or where our beliefs do not fully coincide with Scripture. (Philippians 3:15). Does this mean we cannot bring correction to our brothers and sisters in Christ? No, but the manner in which it is done must be loving, and it is best done only at the Lord's leading. We tend to err on the side of judging too quickly, rather than seeking God's heart for the growth and benefit of others.
Paul's response to the schisms or immaturity of fellow Christians was to pray for both knowledge and love:
And this I pray, that your love may abound
If we follow Paul's example and take our concerns to the Lord in prayer, we will find that God takes away our desire to judge and replaces it with a sincere concern for others. Love covers offenses. Love may also confront when offended, but makes sure to guard the relationship in the process, rather than burning the bridge.
No matter what issues arise in the coming days, the greatest test will still be the test of unconditional love. This kind of love IS possible, despite our human flaws, when we stop jealously guarding our "corner" of the truth and allow God to be God, perfecting and refining each one of us in the true knowledge of Him.
My spiritual mother has a favorite maxim for raising children: "Do what's important to them at the time." When you invest in what's important to your children at different stages in their lives, they come to know the love you have for them. We have a Father who parents us this way, too. What's important to us is always important to Him, because His goal is always to show us how much He loves us. I pray these tender words from our heavenly Father will lead you deeply into His Presence.
Enter In! Enter in to the fellowship of the gospel! It is fellowship with Me that you seek above all, and it is fellowship with you that I desire. My heart is satisfied in your presence just as yours is satisfied in Mine. A Father delights in being with his children, because they are a reflection of who he is. His children bring him joy each time they come. To see their faces, to kiss their cheeks, this is how I feel about you, child. No one understands you better than Me, because I made you. I spend time with you. I know you intimately, and you do not challenge or threaten me. I am bigger than you are - stronger - ready to handle whatever you throw My way! Even your accusations fall short of Me, for I know what is truly in your heart, says the Lord. Do not be afraid to enter in to My Presence. All the way has been cleared. My schedule is free. My arms are open. There is nothing more important on my agenda than to meet with you. In fact, I don't have an agenda when it comes to you. My goal for you is to make you know the depth of My love, at any and all cost. When you change direction, I will follow you, overtake you, restore you. You cannot escape from the love of this Father! My heart is open wide to you, completely free, completely at peace. You have nothing to fear in My love. Enter in, child - enter in.
c. Deborah Perkins / His Inscriptions
Sometimes God plants difficult people directly in our paths in order to help us grow. Like thorns in our flesh, these people prick and poke at us until they rub us raw. We learn, painfully, that we just can’t live with them. We have to forgive them. If we don’t, we find that same kind of person further on down our paths, ready to prick us yet again.
"The Blessed Life." How eagerly we seek it, and how elusive it can seem! Rare are the times when we actually reach those "ideal moments" we long for in life: sipping a piῆa colada on a tropical beach, taking a year's sabbatical to pursue a passion, or enjoying the luxury of an overflowing bank account! Far more common is the struggle to overcome, the sense that we are barely keeping up.
True intimacy is a function of time. If we want to know someone well, we must spend quality time with that person. There really is no substitute for time when we are building a relationship that is heart-to-heart.
A by-product of time spent together is trust. Our everyday experiences of life lived in proximity to others teach us who is trustworthy and who is not. We learn who keeps their word and who fails to deliver. In most cases, we choose our closest friends on the basis of their trustworthiness.
In the Bible, one Greek word for faith – pistis – is translated “trust,” or “full persuasion.” Jesus tells us in Luke 17:5 that faith (here, “pistis”) the size of a mustard seed can cause mountains to move. When sown, even a tiny seed of faith has great potential for miracles. Yet like all seeds, it must grow. It isn't the size of the seed that matters. It's the nurturing of the seed that's important.
How Does Faith Grow?
Our relationship with God works the same way. We seed our time into His Presence, He waters us with His Word, and our trust grows. When we magnify those “giants of the faith” in God who seem to produce such impressive results everywhere they go, we are really celebrating those who have developed great trust in God and His Word over time, creating what we call “great faith.”
In Christian circles, I think we sometimes complicate things that are actually quite simple. We look at the “faith giants” we know and think to ourselves, “I could never do that / be like that / believe God for that!” We forget that faith is simply trust, and trust is built over time.
Biblical giants like David and Elijah began their relationships with God in obscurity, too. Hidden in caves and tested in the wilderness they forged their trust with God in solitude and prayer. During one-on-one time with their Maker, they learned to hear Him, to trust Him, and to know Him. Jesus did the same.
A Divine Invitation
There are times when we seek God in peaceful contemplation. But there are also times when God seeks us, driving us to Him in times of dire need. Though we rarely consider them as such, our trials are somewhat like divine invitations to come more deeply into His Presence and get to know Him. What feels like “down” is actually “up.” What presents itself to us as need becomes our anointing – IF we accept the invitation.
When there is nothing left for us to hold on to except the Word, we find that we are conformed more closely to His Word. We dig deeper because we simply must find Him, must connect, must receive – or all seems lost.
Our Jacobean effort results in blessing. Despite our limp, we have met with God. We know Him. We have heard Him. Leaning on our Beloved, we emerge from our trial on fire: purified yet not consumed by the fire that threatened us. Powerful yet humbled. Radiant yet unaware of His glory streaming from us. We are confident now, sure of an aspect of God’s character we had not been certain of before. We believe we can trust Him - Aha! - we have faith!
Faith is not having the solutions to our problems. It is knowing and trusting the One who does. The power to live life and do great things comes to those who believe, trust, and know their God. (See Ephesians 1:17-21; Eph. 3:20-21; 2 Peter 1:3). If we need a miracle in our circumstances, we must spend enough quality time with the Miracle-worker to learn how He operates. There is no other way.
Good relationships take time. Perhaps this is one reason why God’s mercies are “new every morning.” It takes a lot of mornings for us to become the faith giants He has called us to be! In mercy, God issues daily invitations to come and get to know Him better. Have you responded to His R.S.V.P.? The only difference between you and a “faith giant” is that the giant plans to respond… every time.
Prayer: Lord, I do want to know You more. I choose to respond joyfully to Your personal invitation to come and be with You. Don’t let me put You off because of my busy schedule. I pray that I would turn to You in every need and trial I have, seeking to know You more. As I do so, help me to locate the power You are releasing to walk through these challenging times. I respond “YES” to Your invitation, every time! With all my heart, I look forward to being with You. Amen.
c. Deborah Perkins/His Inscriptions
What is Jealousy?
Jealousy can manifest as at least three kinds of moles: covetousness, misplaced ambition, or mistrust. Let’s study each one so we’ll recognize them when they pop up unexpectedly.
1. Covetousness: The most obvious and widespread form of jealousy is covetousness, prohibited by God in the 10th commandment. (See Exodus 20). Coveting is wishing you had a prettier wife like your best friend. It’s resenting the large house your neighbor built next door – with a chef’s kitchen and custom details throughout. Covetousness lusts after the diamond engagement ring your best friend is flaunting shamelessly.
Covetousness is wanting “anything that is your neighbor’s,” according to God. With a definition that broad, covetousness hard to escape! All of us have admired something to the point that lust for that object has subtly taken over in our minds. This is why Jesus says that a man who is “just looking” at another man’s wife has already committed adultery with her in his heart. He is coveting. Covetousness leads to adultery and idolatry, and idolatry leads to death:
…One is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin,
2. Misplaced ambition: The Bible makes a distinction between ambition and selfish ambition. Galatians 5:20 says selfish ambition is one of the “obvious works of the flesh, along with idolatry, witchcraft, and quarreling. Those who yield to these things do not inherit the kingdom of God. (See Galatians 5:20, NIV or HCSB). The trouble is that selfish ambition is not always as “obvious” as we think it is. Sometimes it is hidden, and God must expose it.
For example, one day I discovered that an old college friend had made it “big” in the business world, with all the books, awards, and positions to go with it. Instead of celebrating her success, my initial “wow” moment quickly morphed into self-pity. Our paths over the last 20 years were radically different. I chose to set my career aside for a time and raise a family. She had worked her way to the top of her industry, and is doing things I’d give my eye teeth to do.
In an instant, all the wonderful things I value: time at home with my children, time to pray and write, and a refreshing distance from the pressures of work & ministry, evaporated. Inferiority and regret surrounded me and I bemoaned the years I’d “wasted” as a wife and mother.
Sound ridiculous? It is! Once you get over yourself you see the eternal value of what you’ve accomplished by following God’s will for your life. Your walk with God is uniquely your own. My friend’s promotions came at cost, too – a price God might not have wanted me to pay. Until circumstances made this particular “mole” pop up, I didn’t even realize it was there, lurking just under the surface.
While selfish ambition is not a godly attribute, ambition for the things of God is something to be desired. The apostle Paul writes: “…we make it our aim (we have as our ambition) to please Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:9, RSV). He says his ambition is to preach the Gospel where Christ is not known, so that he doesn’t build on someone else’s foundation (Romans 15:20). Paul also directs us to “eagerly desire” spiritual gifts such as prophecy; something we could not do without a measure of ambition (1 Corinthians 14).
1 Thessalonians 4 reads “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life. Mind your own affairs and work with your hands so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one.” (1 Thess. 4:11). Ambition isn’t wrong. But it needs the right focus.
3. Mistrust: At its heart, jealousy reveals a basic mistrust in the goodness of God. We doubt that God cares as much for us as He does for our neighbor, since our neighbor’s life seems so much better than ours! Doubt turns to unbelief, and unbelief is sin. If we fail to whack this mole immediately, it will only multiply and pop up in other areas of our spiritual lives.
The devil hopes to overrun your mind with moles of mistrust in order to keep you from hearing God. Every step you take on the road to jealousy is a step farther away from intimacy with God.
The Kingdom of God operates by faith. When our lives seem to lack the “substance” we desire, faith is the means of obtaining that substance. Jealousy covets. Selfish ambition forcefully takes what it desires. Mistrust fears it is not worthy of God’s blessings. These three things cause us to hide from God because we hurt inside, aching for things that have not manifested yet.
Faith, on the other hand, believes in the love of God to provide. Faith trusts in the equal concern of God for all His children. Faith accesses the redeeming power of forgiveness, which restores hope and trust.
How Can We Win the Battle Against Jealousy?
Within all of us, there is an innate human tendency towards envy and selfish ambition. Doubt and mistrust are seeds Satan planted at the fall of man. We long to be known, heard, and appreciated. Yet as believers we are called to know, hear, and appreciate God above all else. As in every area of our spiritual life, acknowledgement of sin is the first step towards healing.
Once we admit we are human and must fight jealousy just like everyone else, we can begin to be proactive about defeating it. God is a strategist. He’s an expert at revealing things hidden in darkness (Daniel 2:22). We can ask Him to expose jealousy’s moles and show us selfish ambition’s ambushes before we get there, so that they won’t get the upper hand.
The value of confronting jealousy is that it exposes areas of our lives where we have not yet died to self and embraced God. Instead of being jealous, we can be content to allow God to weave us into the fabric of His masterpiece when He sees fit, and in the places where our true colors will best be displayed. We can celebrate, not covet, the beautiful hues and patterns already knitted together, even when we feel like forgotten balls of yarn left in the basket. We can tame the ugly green monster. We can stop allowing jealousy to destroy our relationships and make it a catalyst for growth in God.
c. Deborah Perkins, His Inscriptions
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A severe hearing loss from childhood caused Deborah Perkins to develop what she now calls her secret weapon: tuning in to God's voice. A Wellesley College graduate and an award-winning writer, Deborah is now a wife and mother of 3 boys. Deborah has devoted over 25 years to professional and lay Christian ministry in New England and beyond. Her passion is inspiring people to cultivate greater intimacy with God.