Self-improvement gurus and business consultants sometimes prescribe what they refer to as the KISS principle. The acronym K I S S, stands of course, for Keep It Simple Stupid!
So this morning, speaking as a fully paid up “STUPID”, here are the two simple points I want us to focus on together:
ONE: Stay close to Jesus as your absolute priority ALWAYS.
TWO: Let God be your boss.
Sometimes it is the simple truths like these that prove to be the most significant, the most critical and the most potentially life-changing. And I would say that some simple truths like these need to constantly be revisited because their message is absolutely central to our continued progress in the faith.
However, I need to stress also a word of warning before we go on because simple truths like these can also often be as slippery as soap. You can immediately appreciate their value, you can see their purpose, and, you can sense their potential, but sadly, holding on to them, like holding on to soap, can be really, really difficult.
As we look at each of these points in turn then, it is also important from the start that we make a firm commitment to suspend our natural tendency to defend ourselves in the face of a personal challenge and be prepared instead to receive some surgery from the clinically sharp truth of God’s Word, because frankly, that is the only way we are going to receive life changing personal revelation from what seem to be very routine and familiar points.
MY FIRST POINT THEN IS: “STAY CLOSE TO JESUS AS YOUR ABSOLUTE PRIORITY ALWAYS.”
There can I think be a real tendency for Christians to come to God with a personal agenda. Typically it is an agenda of things that WE want from our relationship with God. Now it is not always a selfish agenda by any means. It can be a desire for answered prayer on behalf of our friends and family, or for God to move on behalf of those in need in our troubled world. But it can also be for God to bless us, to provide for us, to turn our desires into received blessings, to meet our needs, or simply to provide answers to our questions.
But selfish or unselfish, much of our interaction with God as we pray, read the Word or fellowship in church, is at root often motivated by our desire for God to “come good” with OUR agenda, our wish list.
Of course, we do also get taken up in worship and praise; we do have moments when we just glow in the warmth and joy of God’s evident presence, and, praise God we have been experiencing this recently here at Elim Hope. But by and large for many of us, our interaction with God has its focus on an agenda of our own devising. It is about establishing OUR will rather than primarily submitting to God’s will.
I sometimes think that God might feel really frustrated with us as we fail to grasp the true nature of our relationship. We come to Him, even when our requests are unselfish, as though He were just the dispenser of good things of our choosing, a kind of supernatural Father Christmas or a spiritual Amazon.com, providing, on demand, all that we desire. But really, when we do this we are treating God as though He were our servant rather than we His.
And what’s more, we are missing the basic point of our salvation which is God’s desire to have a loving relationship with those He has created and to guide and use us in ways that further His purposes and ultimately have a part in displaying His glory. A relationship which, of course, was lost in the Garden of Eden but potentially restored at Calvary. A relationship of mutual love between a loving creator God and loving and grateful created beings.
Speaking of Jesus, Matthew, records the prophet Isaiah’s words when he says: ““Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God WITH us).” (Matthew 1:23, ESV) “God WITH us” – the whole purpose of Christ’s coming was to restore that fellowship between man and God that was lost in the rebellion in the Garden of Eden. God’s firm intent and desire was to provide a legitimate restoration of that intimate relationship for which He had created mankind. We are meant to be close to God, to know Him personally, serve Him faithfully AND bring HIM glory.
As Jesus was about to ascend to Heaven after the resurrection, His very LAST words here on earth were: “… I am WITH YOU always, to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:20, ESV) So this close relationship that we have as Christians is clearly an overarching and a sustained PRIORITY for God.
Wonderfully, it is a personal closeness that is now LEGITIMATELY possible because it has been purchased by Christ’s sacrifice at Calvary through which He paid forever for our sins, so that all we need to do is come in faith and believe for ourselves that Christ has redeemed us from the penalty of our sins and restored our relationship with the Father.
And because of the overwhelming perfection of Jesus’ sacrifice, Paul tells us “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1, ESV) and affirms: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be ABLE to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39, NIV84)
So the ONLY THING that can possibly stop us enjoying a permanent closeness with God, is US. Not our sin, because that is forever dealt with through Christ’s sacrifice, but our lack of FAITH in what Christ has done for us, or our lack of personal REVELATION of the nature of our redemption and our born again relationship with our Creator God.
Even more amazing is the fact that Jesus has fulfilled another crucial promise to ensure and underwrite the means by which our closeness can be achieved and sustained when He declared: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor TO BE WITH YOU forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16–17, NIV84) This is what Paul describes in his letter to the Colossians as: “. . . the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ IN you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27, NIV84)
So, if as both Jesus and the Apostle Paul tell us, our relationship involves Christ IN us, through the Holy Spirit, then surely our relationship with the Father has to be the most exciting and precious benefit and blessing we could ever dream of? Shouldn’t then this be the key treasure of our lives. As in Jesus’s “Parable of the Hidden Treasure” in Matthew 13:44 isn’t this something worth selling everything we have to obtain and enjoy?
Cherishing God’s person and God’s presence, is surely what the Christian life is really all about. Because the quality and fruitfulness of our Christian life is NOT about what we know, our knowledge of the faith, our skills and giftings, the church we go to, our giving, or how good a Bible student we are, it is about the closeness of our relationship with the Saviour, because this is what God has provided at such enormous cost, and, is the very thing that He Himself particularly prizes.
This desire for closeness to God features in many of the Psalms of course. In Psalm 27 for example, King David expresses his desire to be in that place of real communion with God when he says: “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4, NIV84)
And Psalm 84 focusses on the preciousness of this close relationship with God and declares in verses 1 and 2 “How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” (Psalm 84:1–2, NIV84).
So I think we all need to ask ourselves, whether honestly, that is an abiding desire and a personal motivation that we share with the Psalmists. And if it is not, then we need to own up to that fact, and seek to find that desire for ourselves, not least, because verse 4 of Psalm 84 then goes on: “BLESSED are those who DWELL in your house;” (Psalm 84:4, NIV84)
And who doesn’t really want to be blessed by God. That surely is an experience that none of us should willingly or sensibly want to forgo, especially as God has done absolutely everything necessary to see to it that whoever we are, whatever our story so far, we can all enjoy the privilege of that blessing, purchased at such supreme cost, but dispensed so freely to all who choose to receive it, through God’s quite inexplicable grace.
Now it is common for Christians, perhaps especially, Pentecostal Christians, who recognise the significance and importance of the manifest POWER of God through the gifts of the Spirit, to focus on reaching out to God to supply that power and those gifts to us. But while there is clearly nothing intrinsically wrong in Christians seeking the power and gifts of God, indeed Paul urges us in his first letter to the Corinthians to . . . “Follow the way of love AND eagerly desire spiritual gifts . . ..” (1 Corinthians 14:1, NIV84), it is also true that if we learn to dwell in the PRESENCE of Jesus we will inevitably see His power at work in us and THROUGH US because God’s power is ALWAYS manifest in His presence.
So the message is “Don’t major on seeking the POWER, major on seeking the PRESENCE.” because growth in the Christian life is not primarily about accumulating knowledge, or even gaining spiritual gifts, it is about developing our relationship with our Saviour. That is what we must covet. That is what we must seek.
BUT THE SECOND POINT IS: “LET GOD BE YOUR BOSS.”
As Christians, all of us I guess would CLAIM to love Jesus. But what does it really mean to love Jesus?
Well Jesus Himself actually spells it out for us in the Word. In John 14 we read “Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will OBEY my teaching.” (John 14:23, NIV84) and in John 15 He says: “If you OBEY my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (John 15:10, NIV84) And, the Apostle John puts it in a nutshell when he says in 1 John 5:3 (NIV84): “This is love for God: TO OBEY HIS COMMANDS.”
It is also clear from Scripture that Jesus Himself followed exactly this principle in relation to His love for the Father when He was here on earth because in John 5:30 Jesus says: “. . . I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.” And it is clear that His approach is always to put the Father’s will first because He says in John 6:38, (NIV84) “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” And He stresses his focus on being obedient even more emphatically in John 4:34 (NIV84) where we read ““My FOOD,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”
Obedience then is clearly the fundamental hallmark of Jesus’ love for the Father. And if that is the right thing for Jesus, then it is certainly the right thing for us too.
So, the stark truth then, is that you cannot separate obedience from love or love from obedience in the Christian life. Whatever we may wish, whatever we may prefer, the Bible is crystal clear on this point, we just DON’T LOVE Jesus if we are not OBEDIENT to Him. (Ouch! That is some of the clinically sharp surgery of God’s Word that I mentioned at the start.)
In fact, both the quality and quantity of our love for God is measured by our willingness to put Him first and to obey Him rather than just doing what suits us best and retaining our independence and control over our lives.
Important and crucial as times of worship and praise are, our love for God is not in itself demonstrated by the quantity or even the quality of our sung worship or our spoken praise, or by the length of our quiet times or our role in the church. Neither is love for God primarily about an emotional response to God of any kind and nor is it about our personal record in the spiritual disciplines.
Our love for God is expressed and demonstrated in our willingness to submit to His will, His instructions, His word, and to obey and follow Him regardless of our own desires or wishes or perceived best interests.
Our love for God is seen when we deliberately choose, whatever the personal cost, to obey God’s word and will. And the ultimate expression of love for the Father of course, was Christ’s willing sacrificial death on the cross, and that, without any doubt, was also the ultimate and immaculate expression of obedience.
But it’s important to stress too that it is not that our obedience affects how much God loves US. He could not love us more, however we perform, or whatever the quality of our love. Calvary has settled that. Rather, and here comes a mind-blowing but 24 carat gold nugget of truth, OUR LOVE demonstrated through OUR OBEDIENCE, WILL MAKE US FRUITFUL in God’s purposes, and so build for us AN ETERNAL INHERITANCE OF BLESSING.
Our love for God is not to be just a “thank-you” response for what we feel God has done for us. Our love is a willingness to be obedient SERVANTS of our Saviour whatever the personal cost and whatever our feelings or our fears and doing so brings joy to God and affects our eternal future.
“Letting God be our boss” means recognising that we must make a commitment to hearing what God is saying to us and then doing what He says. And it is this commitment that is critical. It is about keeping ourselves in a place where our default position is obedience to the Holy Spirit, not one where we are continually weighing up whether or not we will do as we are told or do our own thing.
Now I think that for most of us, and certainly for me, that this is a learning process, it is not something that many of us will find to be an automatic response. It needs to be a learned response.
Life is a continual battle for us to obey God and reject sin and selfishness and disobedience. So choosing to demonstrate our love for God through our obedience, is not going to be an easy ride. It is difficult, it is costly and it can be painful and unpleasant.
But it is this price, the costliness of obedience, that is the very thing that makes it an expression of our love for our Saviour and so every victory we have in this battle is a blessing through the Holy Spirit to us, but it is also very much an expression of our love for God.
So we need to learn through experience the difficult but vital lesson that LOVING God involves the unavoidable, and sometimes painful cost of personal obedience.
But as I finish this morning let me just highlight one final thing about these two simple truths – “Stay close to Jesus as your absolute priority ALWAYS” and “Let God be your boss”. Because these two simple truths actually work together to enable us to grow and develop in our Christian life.
Staying close to God means that we will inevitably find ourselves loving Him more, and our increasing love will move and motivate us to obey Him and let Him be our boss.
But to really see the strength and potential of these two truths working together we need to put not OBEDIENCE, but DISOBEDIENCE, in the spotlight.
In the context of pleasing God and being the people He wants, and can empower us to be, we need to appreciate that while obedience is THE way we express our love to God, DISOBEDIENCE represents the opposite. It is an act of defiance against God. If you like, it is the opposite of love which is, of course, hate. And that is a mortifying thought when you think of all that God has done for us.
Though we might want to pass off our disobedience as just a slip up, or a momentary failure, it is in fact a wilful act of defiance against our Saviour. Disobedience is not harmless, it is actually destructive of our relationship with the Lord and this is particularly the case with repetitive or besetting sins that we can so often be ready to tolerate and minimise or even dismiss.
Early in the ministry of Jesus, Luke records that visiting the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth, and I quote, ”The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”” (Luke 4:16–19, NIV84)
We need to really understand then that Jesus was specifically commissioned by the Father to “proclaim freedom for the prisoners“ and “to release the oppressed”. And, since we know for a fact that Jesus did not fail, and has not failed in ANY aspect of His ministry and calling, why should we accept the lie that if we feel imprisoned by sinfulness and disobedience, Jesus cannot set US free?
To see the blessings and spiritual fruitfulness that bring glory to God out of our short earthly lives, and to enjoy the eternal benefits that this brings, we need to see our disobedience for what it is – a rebellion against our Saviour.
Now, of course, we need to do our part by staying alert and by praying that we will not fall into temptation, but instead of accepting the lie that we CANNOT overcome our temptation, we should hold on by faith to the reality that Jesus is MORE THAN ABLE TO SET US FREE, because as Paul tells us: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will NOT let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NIV84)
So these two simple truths, “stay close to God” and “let God be your boss”, though hard to hold on to, offer us NOT a vain hope but a sure and certain hope of God’s blessing, if only we will commit to holding them fast and responding consistently with faith “. . . , because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”” (Hebrews 13:5, NIV84)