When Matthew writes, he starts with the beatitudes and like climbing a mountain follows the route markers up to the top. You are salt, you are light, what the law really speaks to, giving to the poor, fasting, true wealth and treasure, the cure for anxiety, judgement of others, prayer, the wide and narrow gates and distinguishing the fruit in believers’ lives.
There are different markers on the way up pointing out the path the king was laying out. At the summit and conclusion of the sermon on the mount we see Jesus issuing a challenge to all the people crowded around to listen.
Jesus, the king talks about what foundation we build our lives upon.
‘Everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the wind blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell and, and the floods came, and the wind blew and slammed against that house, and it fell – and great was its fall. – Matthew 7:24-27 NASB
We live in an age that the media has dubbed the ‘post truth’ age. Whether it is news/politics or whether it is online content, we are now bombarded with information from a lot of competing sources. How do we know and distinguish what is right and true to build our lives on?
We all know that a computer will only put out what it has been programmed to do. The same applies to us we will only put out what we program ourselves with input.
What are we programming ourselves on? Are we certain the influences we are ascribing to are rock steady or shifting sand? Jesus taught us that sometimes it’s not until the storm comes that we find out if our foundation we are basing our decisions and future on are sure or shifting sands.
Jesus gave us the clearest indication in this parable of what we can be certain to build our lives upon. His words and teachings will never fail to lead us to build strong foundations that cannot be eroded by the storms of life.
I know personally that when the chips are down how much erodes away as chaff and that what you cling to is the life-giving words only Jesus gives.
Wisdom and truth in situations can be sought from God. He still speaks to us today. Sometimes we need to come to Him, not to affirm our assumptions or preconceived ideas but with an open heart and mind to hear from Him, His wisdom which He freely gives to all those who ask.
I delight in my son and daughter. I’m delighted that they exist and that has nothing to do with their behaviour. They do things I ask them not to and sometimes we have to have words with them but I love them passionately. Since having kids and delighting in them I have marvelled at how much this is how God sees us.
Look at Psalm 139
1O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
2 You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
3 You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
4 You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
5 You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!
Here we have an intimate picture of King David writing his view behind the curtain and seeing God’s delight in him.
Wouldn’t we be much better followers of Jesus when we realised that God delights in us. Prayer would be more about spending quality time with our beloved Lord and less like a shopping list of needs/wants or anxious thoughts.
Our obedience wouldn’t be something we measure or critique ourselves on, but rather our obedience would be a fruit of us loving and enjoying being with the Lord.
That inspires us to see what Jesus really came for. It reminds us that we can all fall into the trap of beating ourselves up about the things we do wrong rather than delighting the God who is delighting in us and removed our sins from us on the cross by the blood of His son Jesus.
When we chose to follow the promptings of God’s Spirit and walk beside Him in step, we are saying to God, I love you and I chose to delight in You. God desires people who love Him over people that try to get every part of life right. It’s never been about performance but rather about resting in His love and delight in us. When we do that, our love for Jesus increases and we find ourselves naturally desiring to do the things that please God. Prayer becomes a wonderful interaction rather than just a something to do, or guilty because we haven’t.
In Luke 11:9-13 we hear the words of Jesus say to us, Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be open to you… How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?
What a promise.
course to set us back to the better way.
Why would God send us a helper? Jesus promised us this helper before He was to suffer on Calvary, and after His resurrection promised to send this helper. The interesting thing is it came with a warning. ‘Don’t leave Jerusalem until you have received the helper (Acts 1:4). We wouldn’t be able to live the better way if God hadn’t sent His helper. We cannot live the way God intended in our own effort; it was never designed to be done like that. Living life in our own strength produces in us, frustration, discouragement, disillusionment or even apathy, that’s not what following Jesus was ever meant to be.
Sending a helper, enables us to rest in Jesus. If we stay connected to Jesus as branches stay connected to the Vine (John 15) the power of the one who walks beside us enables us to live the better way, finding the path Jesus has for us and to produce the fragrant, tasty qualities God looks for in the life of His believers (Galatians 5:22-23).
When we walk closely with the Helper, looking for His directions, change of pace, we find ourselves in a place where God help us produce the things in our life that we can’t in our own capacity. Despite our circumstances we can continue to produce the character traits of our Heavenly Father, those good traits like peace, patience, goodness, kindness that stand out to people as different or surprising within the cultures we live in. Our Father delights when He sees himself reflecting in His children and them reflecting those traits into the world to show who He is really like.
On your own, would you know what path to take? Would you know if it was right or wrong to decide on a good thing, not knowing if it was best?
God doesn’t intend for us to stumble around in the dark not knowing His will for us. Trusting His helper of the Holy Spirit, remaining connected with Jesus in daily spending time with Him can draw us into a deeper, sweeter more satisfying relationship with the Father. Intimacy as it was always meant to be right from the garden.
So, staying connected? What does that mean?
To actively remain in Jesus, we must walk as Jesus walked, not in our own strength and wisdom but in dependence on the Holy Spirit- the helper, and in submission and obedience to the Father and His word. In this way we will walk closely with the helper, hearing from the father what is best for us.
Paul was encouraging a rather difficult and easily distracted church. They were young in faith and slow to grow to maturity. Putting on his Pastors hat, Paul encourages his friends in this fellowship to pursue their sharing of the gospel and growing in their faith. But how do you inspire them to strive for better, than just settling? For better than what they see around them in their culture?
Pauls comes up with an idea. He relates their situation to the Isthmian athletic games that were hosted in the city:
24 Don’t you know that when people run on the race-track everybody runs, but only one person gets the prize? Run in such a way that you’ll win it. 25 Everyone who goes in for athletics exercises self-discipline in everything. They do it to gain a crown that perishes; we do it for an imperishable one. 26 Well then: I don’t run in an aimless fashion! I don’t box like someone punching the air! 27 No: I give my body rough treatment, and make it my slave, in case, after announcing the message to others, I myself should end up being disqualified.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
When we train for fitness or a race or to climb or achieve a goal, there is always a cost. Our bodies may not wish to do what we ask, but we need to discipline it so that it builds strength to achieve our goals. It often doesn’t like it though our bodies complain for a few days afterwards, letting us know that. The result though, if we persevere, is we achieve those goals and obtain the rewards.
We can apply this idea to finances, mountain climbing or whatever goal we have in mind.
I wonder though do we look at this the way Paul intended? Do we require of our bodies sacrifice to search deeper into God? Do we get up before everyone in the family for that quiet time? Do we fast and pray to see that family member saved or return to following the Lord?
Paul encourages us that like a top athlete we should never stop training, we must never stop pursuing and obeying God.
How much will we accomplish if we do not embrace the Lords purpose for our lives and live out this purpose with consistency and dedication?
Part of being a disciple is discipline. Pauls inspiring us with the reason for why we are being disciples, why we are ‘Jesus following athletes’, to obtain the blessing God has for us not for earthly recognition but to receive those blessings the Lord has for us as faithful seekers of God.
As we watch those Olympians receive their medals for the extra, they achieved, think about what we don’t see. The cost of toil and hours of early starts and discipline, that may get them a gold by the smallest of margins and remember Pauls encouragement: Pursue God with that same intensity because the prize is imperishable.