The God Who Strengthens His People

Part 5

EFAC National Conference | Melbourne, Australia

It’s been very good to be here, and I hope I can come back some day. It was really a remarkable experience to get to know you. I feel like we’re just starting, and it comes to an end.

Well, we started with our theme, and I want to make sure I highlight it again and relate the things I close with to it — the God who strengthens his people. And my aim has been to magnify this God who is so full and so complete and so self-sufficient that he is always the source of strength, and never the receiver of strength — ever, without exception. He is always benefactor and never beneficiary of any power or being outside himself. He is always giver, helper, supplier, enabler — never needy, never deficient, never wanting.

He is magnified, therefore, by our receiving from him strength, not by our giving strength or help to him. And I summed this up by saying: he is most glorified (or magnified) in us by our being most satisfied in him — in his strength, in his promises. And therefore, for God’s sake, you must make it your lifetime goal to be satisfied. To be indifferent to your own satisfaction in God is to be indifferent to what is righteous and to promote sin. If God is most glorified in you for his strength, when you are most satisfied in him for that strength, then not to pursue your satisfaction in that strength is sin. And therefore, the pursuit of your own joy is not an option in the Christian life; it’s a duty. It’s at the essence of what sanctification is

Rejoice Through It All

Now, as I was pondering last night, just a fresh way to say that in a real practical way for your own prayer life, these two texts came together. And I want you to pray like this. I don’t know how you pray about these things, but here are two texts that govern my prayer life deeply. One is Psalm 63:3:

Your steadfast love is better than life.

And put that together then with Psalm 90:14, where the psalmist prays,

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
    that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

Now, put those two together, and there’s a prayer:

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, which is better than life, that we may rejoice and be glad in you all of our days — including the day of our death, since it’s better than life.

And if you can rejoice in the day of your death, because you’ve always feasted on the steadfast love of the Lord, which is better than life, then you can rejoice on any day. Because death is the ultimate enemy, the final enemy. And therefore, if you can do that, you can rejoice through any kind of misery.

Battle Against Unbelief

So what I’d like to do now in this last talk, in order to apply these things and try to work the construct of living the Christian life this way deeper into your own consciousness, is to take two or three more sample states of unbelief and deal with them from a standpoint of pursuing your satisfaction in order to be freed from them. And then I’ll close by addressing an issue that came up in our mentoring group yesterday; namely, in view of all this talk about pursuing your own satisfaction and Christian Hedonism, how should we conceive of and understand the biblical concept of servanthood toward God, which seems to be a noble, great, central, biblical understanding of how to relate to God — namely, a servant to master, subject to king — does that fit this paradigm? So that’s the plan.

Now, let’s take just a few states of unbelief because I need to work you through two or three more, so that as you face these kinds of temptations of unbelief and sin, you will have at least a paradigm that you remember from this conference of attacking those sins and those states of unbelief that can bring your ministry to a screeching and permanent end. Even if you don’t, for sure, buy it all, you have it in your head as a possible way of fighting the fight. It might come in handy someday.

How to Battle Lust

So, let’s talk about lust for a minute. It’s a very relevant thing for me because two-and-a-half years ago, a ten-year associate of mine was found to have been, for seven of those years, in an active affair with the organist of our church. And it just about destroyed our church. We lost about 238 people. We do not have a replacement for him yet, two-and-a-half years later. It disillusioned hundreds with the authenticity of our worship. It caused people to question the authority of ministers. Those kinds of things are devastating in a congregation. The ripple effects are unbelievable. There are no easy ways out. Therefore, I care very much about licking lust — about destroying it, and defeating it, and triumphing over it, in my life and in your life.

Now, we can talk for hours. I’ve lectured lots on lust. And I’m only going to talk five minutes or so here on this.

Great and Precious Promises

And I think the place I want to start with you is 2 Peter. This is a very important text because it’s not only relevant to lust, it’s relevant to every form of corruption and passion that would tend to bring you down in your ministry. And believe me, Satan is out to bring you down. He hates the church of Jesus Christ. He hates ministers, and he never goes on vacation, and he lies continuously to you and shoots arrows at you continually. And you must take up all the armor of God, especially the sword of the Spirit (which is what we’re doing right now), and find daggers that run him through, day in and day out.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, . . .

So there’s some great future glorious things to which he called us and our power, his power come to us through a knowledge of those things. But it says more:

by which [glory and excellence] he has granted to us his precious and very great promises . . .

That’s future grace in my vocabulary.

so that through them [the promises] you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3–4)

So, if I were to give you a final exam on these lectures, and asked the question, How do you escape the corruption that is in the world through passion? what would you answer me? You would write out something like: “Trough precious and very great promises.” I would say, “Yes, but what’s the experiential connection with the promises?” Objective reality is nothing if it doesn’t connect with you. And the answer is: faith in future grace, faith in those promises.

Now, the paradigm here is not worked out in any detail in these two verses, but it’s clear as a bell how to set about working it out. There are precious and very great promises rooted in excellence and glory. The knowledge of these leads to a transmission of divine power that pertains to life and godliness. And by that, you are freed from lust, freed from the corruption that is in the world through passion. So, believing precious and very great promises is how to break the power of lust in your life.

What the Pure in Heart Desire

For example, there was an article in Leadership magazine in America about 16 years ago, written by an anonymous pastor who had been in the grip of lust for about 12 years — all kinds of horrible things, never going all the way into adultery, but going to strip-tease shows, magazines, videos, everything, while he was in cities delivering talks on spirituality. It would be like, me here finding whatever red-light district would be in Melbourne, sleeping with a prostitute, coming back here to lecture to you folks about purity. Men do that sort of thing. And he wrote this article about how he was delivered. And it wasn’t duty, it wasn’t guilt.

There was a point when he read Matthew 5:8; he’d probably read it a thousand times, he said. But he read it.

Blessed are the pure in heart, [here comes the promise] for they shall see God.

And it hit him, by the power of the Spirit, that he was selling his whole life short in what he could see and taste and experience of God, by giving away to these cheap, low passions over and over again. He was being blinded. He was being kept in the gutter. He was not experiencing the full-orbed, glorious beauty of his Father. And God gave him a taste of it and made him want it so bad, he wanted it more than the lust, and it was broken. And that’s why I define faith as being satisfied with all that God is for you in Jesus. If God promises that you will see him if you walk in purity, and you’re satisfied in seeing him, it will work. It will break the power.

Laypeople think we’re good at this; they think we’re good at this. We’re not very good at this. They think that by virtue of being a pastor, God always is gloriously satisfying to us. I tell you it is one lifelong battle to be satisfied in God and not ministry success or television or becoming a good ping-pong player or whatever happens to be your waste of time. We have to fight, and the way we fight is with the sword of the Spirit, and we meditate. I was so glad to hear that one of you went home, opened your Bible, and asked the Lord to give you delight in him. I want you to open your Bibles this afternoon or tonight when you go home and say,

I don’t want to prepare a sermon, don’t want to get ready for any meeting; I just want to taste God. Because if I don’t taste you, if I don’t experience the wonder of who you are, I’ll turn on the television and lust. I’ll get out my portfolio and look at the newspaper tomorrow to see if my stocks went up. And if they went up, I’ll feel good; and if they went down, I’ll feel bad. And I don’t want my passions to come from those things; I want them from you.

And the only mediating point is the word as the Spirit broods over you with your elbows on either side. That’s the posture where the Holy Spirit comes. Elbow here, elbow here, face in the book, and the Spirit falls. He loves to honor the word that he inspired.

All Good Things

Here’s another promise. I love this promise. It was one of George Müller’s favorite promises:

For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
    from those who walk uprightly. (Psalm 84:11)

For those who walk uprightly, he withholds no good thing. Now, if you believe that, you got a mighty weapon against lust, which is not walking uprightly. The temptation comes to look longer than you should, think longer than you should, or buy what you shouldn’t, or rent what you shouldn’t, or go where you shouldn’t. And you take that promise and you believe it. You say,

Satan or thought or book, nothing good is going to be withheld from me, if you get out of my life. You are not good and I reject you and I run you through with this precious and this very great promise, by which I am now being delivered from the corruptions that is in the world.

And it dies and falls down, and you turn. And your whole life, even the pains in your life, can be seen as gloriously good. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. Over and over again in The New Testament, it says that lusts are lusts of deceit. They’re called “lusts of deceit” in Ephesians 4:22. In 1 Peter 1:14: lusts that you had in your “former ignorance.” Or 1 Thessalonians 4:5: lusts “like the Gentiles who do not know God.” There’s a knowing thing involved here: people who give way to lusts are not knowing something. They’re living in either denial or unbelief in some truth — namely, the superiority of the value of God over the value of this cheap momentary thrill.

Kill Sin by the Spirit

But the last text on this issue of lust I want to look at with you is in Romans 8. This is a paradigmatic text for me. Paul is talking to Christians here, and he threatens professing believers with eternal death.

If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

If by the Spirit, you kill the deeds of the body (lust, for example), then you will live. How do you kill by the Spirit? Now, that’s the sort of thing you should think many hours about. You should ask yourself those kinds of questions: How do you kill deeds by the Spirit? You kill, but by the Spirit. So does the Spirit do it or you do it? Yes. What is the one killing weapon of the Spirit in Ephesians 6:10–20? The sword. There’s only one. You don’t kill anybody with a shield. You don’t kill anybody with a helmet. You don’t kill anybody with shoes. You don’t kill anybody with belts. You kill people with swords, and you kill deeds with swords. Put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit, which I take to mean: by the Spirit’s enabling you to use his sword, which is precious and very great promises (2 Peter 1:4).

Therefore, when I get on the plane tomorrow morning — I fly from here to Sydney, so they won’t show a movie on that plane. But when I get on in Sydney, they’re going to show two movies between here and Chicago. And I have no doubt there will be suggestive scenes in those movies. OK, what will John Piper do? He will tonight and he will tomorrow morning and he will there, open his Bible and find some juicy steak and he will eat, and so fill his belly that that little sugar tidbit being offered will feel very unappetizing.

Matthew Henry, the commentator, prayed like this: “Lord, put my mouth out of taste for the food with which Satan baits his hooks.” Put my mouth out of taste for the food with which Satan baits his hooks. It really won’t do much good for me to look at it and say, “Oh, I’m not supposed to do this; I’m not supposed to do this,” and try to grit my teeth and not think about it. Far better is to be ravished with a superior pleasure: break the back of lust by the power of a superior pleasure.

How to Battle Unforgiveness

Let’s talk for just a minute about unforgiveness and bitterness in the ministry. If you’ve been in ministry long enough to make an enemy (like maybe two or three weeks), then you will know that there’s a tremendous battle not to become a bitter person and to carry your pain into the pulpit, and to not, between the lines, let everybody know how you’re hurting or who you’re angry with. It’s an awful danger; don’t do it. We all tend to think that if we have one or two or three enemies who are criticizing us, sending us notes, saying mean things to us, that we have them everywhere. And so, we tend to indirectly defend ourselves or indirectly chastise them in our little platform here. It ruins the whole congregation if you do that.

I’ve said to people over and over again, when they ask me counsel about how you handle those people: “I’m going to out-rejoice them.” I am going to out-rejoice them. They are unhappy, grumpy, miserable people. They want me to be that way so that I will leave. And I’m going to conquer through joy. You can’t conquer through winning an argument in the pulpit against your enemies; they’ll turn it against you every time. You can only win by a loving joy. Now, the question is, How in the world can you do that? Where does that kind of resource come from? And it comes from a really odd place.

Vengeance is God’s

Let me take you to two texts in this regard. This will sound strange perhaps, but I hope it’s not biblically unbalanced:

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you live peaceably with all.

That’s a nice realistic verse: it may not depend on you, and you may not be able to stop the war, but do what you can.

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17–21)

What’s the promise in those verses that free you from the corruption of vengeance? Vengeance is mine, I will repay. That’s the promise. You don’t need to settle accounts with your accuser; God will. You could treat that in a vindictive way: God will get you. But you can’t take that out of the Bible. That is given as a ground. Notice the logic of verse 19: Never avenge yourselves. That’s a loving thing to do. And the ground of it is: God’s going to do the avenging. God’s going to do it. Here’s why this is so important: the reason we feel so indignant when we are abused, when we are lied about, when we are unjustly criticized or gossiped about — the reason we feel so indignant — is not merely self-pity or thin skin or a vindictive spirit, but an appropriate moral view of the universe. Such things ought not to happen. You are guilty for talking that way. So, there’s a legitimate indignation when somebody sins in a gossiping way. And that tends to make us feel justified in taking action to defend ourselves and get them.

Now, at that point, the relief of that energy and that bent towards vengeance has to come from something that settles the injustice of the universe that’s just been perpetrated. And what settles it is one of two things: either hell settles it, or the cross settles it. If you’ve got and enemy, he’s going to burn in hell forever for what he’s done to you. Or if he gets converted, Christ burned and was crushed for that very sin, and it would be double jeopardy and a dishonor to Jesus if you punished him for it. So, in either case, you don’t need to be the avenger. That part of the whole pressure inside of you can relax and say, “Alright, it feels like the world is going wrong, and injustice is being done, and evil is getting away cheap. But it isn’t. This text is a precious and very great promise, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’ Relax.”

When I went through that crisis two-and-a-half years ago (which is still going on in my church), the elders sat on the platform with their wives, unified in the discipline that we took and the steps we took. And we sat for hours, while a hundred people lashed us. That’s the way it works in a congregational church. We set up three microphones, and we just made ourselves vulnerable. And we said, “Here’s what we’re going to do about this; you many now ask us questions and address us with your opinions.” And we were torn to shreds. Now, we were mightily reported by maybe seventy percent of the congregation, but the others had no hesitancy to lay into us for our “lack of love” and our “vindictive spirit” and our “hasty actions” and so on. And to this day, it would be very easy for me to hold a grudge because many of them have not said anything about the way of reconciliation. There are broken lives. Some don’t go to church anymore at all. And we’re still mopping up the operations.

But what enables me to just stop thinking about it, for most of the time, is: God’s going to settle accounts. If I erred, I’m open and laid bare. The Lord will wrap my knuckles some day and make it right. And if they erred, Christ bore it. Or if they’re not believers, they’re going to suffer ultimately for it. That’s a gloriously freeing thing. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” This is not the only promise, not the only strategy for handling bitterness and unforgiveness, but it’s a crucial one.

How to Battle Anxiety

One more state of unbelief before I turn to that last point of servanthood — namely, anxiety. Anxiety is huge. It covers almost everything, but I want to address it with one pair of texts. What do you do when you are threatened with the state of unbelief called anxiety?

Grreat Is God’s Faithfulness

I call it a state of unbelief because the Bible says not to be anxious.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6–7)

You shouldn’t be anxious. You shouldn’t be an anxious person. Christians are not supposed to worry. They’re not supposed to be anxious. Now, in the great passage on anxiety in Jesus’s teaching — namely, Matthew 6, it ends with a remarkable verse. I want to connect it with a verse in Lamentations that you’re all very familiar with. But in Matthew 6:34 it says,

Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Now, here’s what I think that means: I think it means that God, in his providence and love for his people, apportions out our troubles with an appropriate amount for each day. And according to Lamentations 3, from which we get the hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” it says,

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22–23)

Now, put those two texts together: Lamentations 3:22–23 and Matthew 6:34. Each day has a sufficient amount of trouble for itself. The mercies of the Lord are new every morning. You see the correspondence. This day’s mercies are designed precisely for this day’s troubles, and if you try to take tomorrow’s troubles and make them carried by today’s mercies, there’s an overload. You don’t stockpile mercy; it can’t be done. You’ve got to take what God gives for each day. You can’t store it up; it’s like manna: it rots at the end of the day. That’s why you’ve got to get up early and go to the word and get it again. I’ve got to get saved every morning, I tell my people. That’s how bad I am as a morning person. I’ve got to get converted all over again, every morning.

George Müller was the man who built the orphanages and got so many answers to prayer. He said his number one challenge was to get himself happy in God every morning. Because he didn’t wake up happy in God. He had to go to the word and find promises and see the Lord afresh. And then his heart rose with the beauty of Christ, and then he was sufficient for that day.

Day by Day

And this is an incredibly pastorally precious thing for your people. For example, one of the things your people do, especially as they grow older, is thinking about whether they will have the resources to handle their last illness, and what it will be like. How much pain will there be? How do you actually die of lung cancer? Do you drown? How do you die of bone cancer? Is it just so painful, you scream yourself to death? What is dying? Will I be able to die well for Christ’s sake? And they come to you, or they feel it without coming to you, and they say, “I don’t feel like I have the strength to do this.”

Or young people will read a story about a martyr, like John and Betty Stam, who were missionaries to China. And when they were kicking out the missionaries, they were not so fortunate, and were drugged, stripped down to their underwear. And she was made to watch while they beheaded her husband. She fell on top of him and they beheaded her. You read a story like that and try to imagine: here’s a young bride with a little baby who had been taken away the day before and was smuggled out and lived. You ask a young 25-year-old girl today, “Do you think you can handle seeing your husband, the neck severed right in front of you and his head roll on the ground. And the average answer would be no. And the pastoral response to that is OK because “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” And the mercies for that event or whatever event you face will come that day.

And if you build a congregation who believes that, you’ll have a very strong people. They don’t need to feel the ability today to deal with tomorrow’s cancer or tomorrow’s martyrdom or tomorrow’s loss of a job or tomorrow’s divorce or whatever. All they need to believe is: when the tragedies come, God will be there, and he’ll be there with a sufficient grace. Do you know the hymn “Day By Day”? There’s a great verse, let me just read it for you.

Every day and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
There’s no cause for worry or for fear.
He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what he deems best.
Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.

He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure, gives unto each day . . . its part of pain and pleasure. That’s right. That’s right theology and beautiful. So anxiety, I believe, is overcome by the promise in the word that each day will have its own sufficient set of troubles, and each day will have a completely adequate store of mercy, new for those troubles.

What you do in order to fight anxiety is to make a list of the kinds of things you get anxious about, and then find an appropriate promise. Let me read you my list:

  • Suppose you fear lacking resources, then you read Philippians 4:19: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

  • Suppose you fear becoming useless and in the ministry. You go to Isaiah 55:11: “My word . . . shall not return to me empty.” Or 1 Corinthians 15:58: “In the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

  • Suppose you fear weakness. You go to 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

  • Suppose you fear decision making. There are some big decisions on the horizon and you don’t know which way to go. You go to Psalm 32:8 and trust the promise: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”

  • Suppose you fear opponents, that they’re going to be stronger than you and bring you down. You go to Romans 8:31: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

  • Suppose you fear affliction and persecution. You go to Psalm 34:19: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”

  • Suppose you fear aging. You go to Isaiah 46:4: “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.”

  • And suppose you fear dying. You go to Romans 14:7–9: “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”

This is the way you live the Christian life. This is the way you fight the fight of faith. This is the way you overcome the states of unbelief, like anxiety. You fight with the word of God, believing the promises, precious and very great, trusting in future grace.

Servants of Christ?

Now, let me close by addressing this issue that came up in our mentoring group: Does this paradigm of living the Christian life — pursuing your own joy in the promises of God and delighting in him and being a Christian Hedonist — fit with Paul’s self-identity and Jesus’s self-identity as a servant or a slave of God or of Christ?

Remember the Metaphor

And I want to argue that it does because when you take a metaphor, like slave or master, you know that there are elements of that metaphor which are intended to be believed and elements that are not. There are elements about slave-master analogies that would be unworthy of a relationship to God. And so, the question is: What element of the analogy (slave/master) does the Bible want us to focus on when he calls us servants or when it calls God our master? Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:10,

I worked harder than any of them [other apostles] . . .

But here he is: servant, pouring his life out for his Master, his Lord. And then he catches himself to clarify and says,

though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

So, if you analyze how he serves, the answer is: he serves by receiving strength (which is the name of this conference). He serves by receiving strength. We’ve got to get out of our heads with this analogy that we meet the needs of our master — like a southern plantation owner in America with a thousand slaves, and if they boycott, he crashes. It is not so with God. God is not dependent on his slaves; he is the supplier of his slaves. If his slaves succeed in their work, it’s because the Master gave them the strength, according to 1 Corinthians 15:10. It’s the same thing with Philippians 2:12–13:

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling

That’s a good, hard servant-duty text. The next verse days:

For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

So yes, we work; but at the end of the day, when we turn around and look at our work, we give him the glory because he was the one who worked in us to will and to do. Or Hebrews 13:20–21 says:

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.

So, if we’re going to serve him it will be owing to the fact that he has worked in us a yieldedness and a readiness to serve him so that helps me understand why Acts 17:25 would say God is not

served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

The whole point of that verse is to say: when you think about the service of God, do not think about servants supplying masters, do not think about servants meeting masters’ needs, do not think about masters being dependent upon the service of the servants. Get all of that part of the analogy out of your head. That’s what that verse means. God is not served by human hands as though he needed anything. There must be another way to serve God besides serving him as though he had needs. So, we must help our people not think of serving God as meeting God’s needs. We must not think of God as wringing his hands, saying, “I have no world mission force. What will I do to get the nations converted?” He’s not wringing his hands. He can snap his finger and have 100000 missionaries in a moment. And he is getting his missionaries, many of them from the Third World because he’s passing right over the West in our delinquency.

Not to Serve

Have you ever concentrated on the negative half of Mark 10:45?

The Son of Man came not to be served.

Have you ever stopped there and just thought about it? The Son of Man came not to be served. That’s an important half of the verse. We usually just pass right over that half and go onto the next half: “but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” But he did come not to be served. The Son of Man came not to be served. Isn’t that remarkable?

Paul called himself the “servant of the Son of Man,” the “servant of Christ.” And the Son of Man says, “I did not come to be served.” So, what’s wrong with Paul? It’s because analogies or metaphors are tricky. You’ve got to be careful when you read the Bible. You’ve got to look at the context, and you’re going to see that Jesus was saying he’s not to be served in some sense, and Paul says he serves in some sense, and they are not contradictory.

Receive and Receive

So now, my last question is: In what sense do we serve? What’s the right way to conceive of serving God? And there are few texts that I’ll close with.

To you I lift up my eyes,
    O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
Behold, as the eyes of servants
    look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
    to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
    till he has mercy upon us. (Psalm 123:1–2)

Now, there’s a paradigm for servanthood that you can embrace without any hesitation. How do you serve him? You look to him with your hand outstretched. If you are a maid and God is your mistress, you look to him with your hand outstretched, until he mercifully fills your hand. So, to serve Jesus is to come to Jesus with your hands empty and to have them filled with something that he probably means for you to share with others — first to satisfy your own heart and then to share with others. That’s the picture of servanthood we should have: servants all over the place, and all they are is empty-handed, and the Master’s got a huge table and it’s full. And he’s got tools, and he’s got oxygen tanks, and he’s got medicines, and he’s got food, and he’s got armor, and he’s got transportation, and he’s got Psalms, and he’s got exercise bicycles, and he’s got beach cottages for vacations. And he says, “Now, come on, join my force here; receive and receive and receive.”

Maximum Benefit

Here’s another text:

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:24)

Now, the question to ask about the meaning of serving God here is: How do you serve money? That’s the parallel. How do you serve money? Do you serve money by meeting money’s needs? No. Do you supply anything to money when you serve money? No. So what does serve money mean? I think serve money means: put money before you in such a way, like a waterfall or a spigot, and maneuver all your thinking and all your life and make all your choices, so as to maximally benefit from money. I think when you do that, you’re serving money. Always an eye to the market, always an eye to some deal, always an eye to maximizing your financial resources. When you lead your whole life so as to be maximally benefited by money, you are serving money.

And that’s exactly the way I think we are supposed to serve God: always using every thought, maneuvering your whole life so as to put yourself in a position to maximally benefit from the promises of God. You are a servant of God formed.

Suppose one of those lights was a spotlight, and it makes a little circle here, and that circle stands for the rich outflow of God’s blessing. For me to serve God would mean to serve God if he goes this way and if he goes another way, I go there. If you go this way to Indonesia, I go this way. If it goes to Australia, I go this way. If it goes to down into the inner city of Minneapolis, I go this way. Because I’m staying onto the blessing. I’m staying onto the promises. I’m His slave.

But that’s a world of difference than to think of God as poor, needing slaves to supply any needs of his. God is the great worker. He’s the great worker. We are the great beneficiary; we are to wait for him. Psalm 37:4, paraphrased: “Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him and He will work. God is the servant, ultimately. Jesus did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.

What God Supplies

Let me close with this text. I tell people at my church that if they were to ask for one verse that would capture the philosophy of ministry that we have at Bethlehem Baptist Church, it would be 1 Peter 4:11:

Whoever serves, [let him serve] as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.

Isn’t that amazing? We’re ending now on our theme: the God who strengthens his people. Let him who serves in the parishes that you’re going to go back to — let him who serves there — serve in the strength that God supplies, so that in everything God might get the glory. God is most glorified in you when you receive more strength from him. When your service is a reflection of having been so drenched and so blessed by his outpouring of strength and love and grace, then he will be glorified. God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.