Know Your “Why”, Committing Your Plans to the Lord

Yesterday was my Sabbath and, consequently, the day I choose not to exercise.

There’s a reason I committed to exercising 6 days a week, and it wasn’t because I thought my end goals would be unrealistic if I kept my fitness program to 5 days.  The truth is, when I have a day off I’m not eager to begin again.  I feel good after a work-out and I’m glad I did it, but I don’t enjoy getting started.

So, when my alarm went off at 6:15, I didn’t want to get up.  Night summer rains had left gloomy clouds overhead and, between the dark and the barometric changes, I felt sooooo tired.  Still, I got dressed, downed my Plexus Slim, and tied my running shoes.

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Good morning to you too.

I was moving slow, my body felt heavy, and Theresa Tapp was just a little too perky.  My form did not feel strong.  I was just sure I couldn’t be getting much out of it… but I was more sure that if I sat down like I wanted I might not get up and move tomorrow either.  And so I had to keep reminding myself of my “Why”.

Why am I doing this?

Goals are good.  Having a standard to measure success is normally a good motivator, except building muscle tone and getting into my wedding dress are not truly my “Why”.

I have all kinds of good reasons to take care of myself, and goals that I can set:

To feel well.

To set an example for my children.

To be strong so I can stay active and be a good mom to my little people.

Someday I want to be the fun Grandma, not the weak and fragile one.

I like my small clothes.  😉

To please my husband.

I made a commitment to myself.

I told those people on Facebook I was going to do this… huhmmmm.

My “Why” is that for some reason God really chose this, stewardship of my body–His Temple, as a major bone to pick with me.  I think He began when a conversation with a friend led me to ask Him to teach me what trusting Him with my health would look like. He started as this still, small voice, but really had to crank up the volume to get me to focus on His message instead of making those excuses, “I should, could, didn’t…I don’t want to,”  and so THIS: obedience, is my “Why”.  Honoring God with this body He gave me (the only one I get) by doing my part to keep it healthy and strong so I can stand at the ready to go forth and do whatever He calls me to do without any physical excuses to hold me back.  He wants me to be faithful to do my part and He is always faithful to do HIS.

I was reading in Acts 20, Paul’s letter to the Ephesian Elders as he prepared to go to Jerusalem and the end.  ESV

(22)And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, (23)Except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.  (24)But I do not account my life of any value not as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” verses 22-24

Paul’s life as a an apostle had not been easy.  He had traveled from place to place, working when necessary, building relationships, teaching, preaching, discipling (and disciplining). He was slandered, stoned, and ship wrecked, and still he faithfully ministered the gospel wherever the Lord lead.  But now he says the Holy Spirit is preparing him that imprisonment and afflictions await.

That’s just what you want to hear when  you’re packing for a trip, isn’t it?

Verse 24 in the Amplified Version say this: “But none of these things move me; neither do I esteem my life dear to myself…

When storms come, your form is bad, and discouragement looms, what will guarantee that you stay the course?

Goals change.  When you meet your goal, then what?  Too often we slide back into bad habits.  Good reasons can be subject to whims… “I don’t feel like it today”, “How did that chocolate make its way into my fridge door?”  “I can’t.”

There are days that there are no reasons good enough to keep us putting one foot in front of another, but there is a way.  God tells us that,

The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps.”  Proverbs 16:9

Have you committed your plans to the Lord?  He will let you know if your plans are from Him and worth pursuing or if maybe you’re losing steam because you went out on a limb by yourself.

In Acts 20, Paul’s was on the Lord’s errand, not His own.  His “Why” didn’t change. Regardless of his circumstances, he would not be moved off course.  He was driven to complete the responsibility given to Him by God.  To finish his “race” well.  To disseminate the message of God’s grace and salvation for mankind until God said his turn was finished.  He trusted God’s way.  That was his “Why”.

What are the things in your life that are worth doing right?  What have you dedicated yourself to?  Are you committed to the Lord?  A marriage?  A ministry? Home-schooling? A healthy lifestyle?  A budget?  Finishing school?  Writing a book?

God promises that when we commit our plans to Him, He will establish our steps.  He supplies the resolve, the strength, the partners, the tools… He gives supernatural gifts, abilities, and brings about fruit of self-control when we lean in close to Him.

If He authors the purpose, He supplies the way to succeed, but He requires our cooperation.

Our “Why” needs to be greater than mere “good reasons”.  It takes the whole, big picture into account.  It is a commitment to something, or Someone, greater. Unchanging. Captivating.  Worthy.  It is greater than our goals.  It generates our goals.

Commit your plans to the Lord, and then “none of these will move you.”  Resolve.  Know your “why”.

 

 

Growing in Kindness

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Our ladies’ group has read the chapter on Kindness in Elizabeth George’s book, “A Woman’s Walk with God, Growing in the Fruit of the Spirit.”  We learned that Kindness:

  •  genuinely cares about others and pays attention to the circumstances of their lives.
  •  thinks–consider other peoples’circumstances, wonder what we can do to help them… what do they need?
  •  notices–sometimes we don’t need to wonder about people’s circumstances; if we’re observant we will notice people’s needs and know what we can do to help them.  She gives examples of the Shunammite woman’s kindness to Elisha (and then he showed kindness toward her when he asked God to give her a son), Dorcas in the New Testament, and of course, Jesus.
  • touches–she says it helps to cultivate kindness when we think of it as a touch of concern and kindness.  We instinctively touch those we care about.  She gives examples of how Jesus touched people all the time.

What else can we learn about Kindness?

Kindness Defined:

If we look in the Greek Lexicon at the meaning of the word Kindness (chrēstotēs), we see that it means:

  1. Moral goodness, integrity
  2.  Benignity (tolerance), kindness

There are times that the word is also translated as gentleness and goodness, which is interesting since these are also fruit of the Spirit; one fruit with characteristics that are interdependent.

Have you ever done a word study?  A word study takes a particular word or subject and looks up all the scriptures that reference that word.  Read everything you can find in the Bible about that word, and make observations to grow your understanding of it’s meaning.

In this case I was looking up all the verses I could find that used the word Kind or Kindness.  Don’t forget to ask God what He wants to teach you on the subject!  You will be amazed by the verses you will trip over, and how the relevance will stand out for you.

How We Learn Kindness

In Titus 2:3-5 we learn that while kindness is a fruit of the Spirit, it is also something that we learn by example.  The older women are to be:

“teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible (self controlled), pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.” Emphasis is mine.

And in Proverbs 31:26, in the famous passage about the “Worthy Woman,” we learn that, “She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.”

As Christian women, we have a responsibility to not only model kindness in our daily lives, but also to intentionally teach kindness with our words, and to grasp opportunities to give those we influence the opportunity to participate in kindness.  We see Jesus teaching in these ways when he lived among his disciples.  Many learning styles are engaged!

When my family was younger, I remember taking our little troop of 4 or 5 to and from town.  One occasion in particular I remember standing in the doorway of our home, with all these little girls trying to shuffle inside.  The youngest toddler was struggling to get up the step and inside, and my hands were full.  I watched one of the older girls standing behind her and she was just watching.  It was a trend I had been noticing a lot, and I told her, “Honey, don’t just stand there and watch your sister struggle.  Help her!”  It didn’t come naturally to her at that time, and she needed the suggestion to reach out and help.

Teach kindness.

Titus says that one of the reasons for us to walk in kindness is to protect the honor and integrity of the Word of God. The world will not believe in the kindness of God that the Bible teaches if they do not see us living what we proclaim.  Our lives are to be the proof of God’s love.

What Kindness Does

In order to live this out, we have to invite God to empty our hearts of what is not Godly in order to make room for the characteristics God wants us to have.  Paul, in Ephesians 4:32, tells us to Be kind and helpful to one another, tender-hearted [compassionate, understanding], forgiving one another [readily and freely], just as God in Christ also forgave you.”  Amplified Version

Kindness is forgiving.  Laying aside personal hurts and instead desiring what is most beneficial for another person.

Kindness is compassionate, not selfish.  Philippians 2:4 says, “do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

John Piper says, “The idea behind “tenderhearted” is that our insides are easily touched. When your skin is tender, it doesn’t take a very hard touch to make it feel pain. When your heart is tender, it is easily affected. It feels easily and quickly.

When you stop and think about it, it is remarkable that this is commanded by the apostle. You can’t just decide to be tenderhearted and turn it on like a faucet. It is a deep character quality.”

Kindness isn’t just something you do. It’s who you are: a woman after God’s own heart.

When I began teaching my daughter to help her younger siblings instead of watching them struggle, I also began to pray for her that God would give her a tender and compassionate heart, and that he would help her notice the opportunities to help others.

Today this is the child who teaches her younger siblings to ride bike.  She dresses them to brave the winter weather and takes them sledding, patiently helping them even when it slows her down.  She brushes their teeth when mom is helping someone else, reads them books, and she is enjoyed by her younger siblings.  By faith the Holy Spirit has softened her heart toward others, and she has learned to be gracious and kind.

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Helping Sister with Math

Kindness to Who?

We are to show kindness to other believers.  “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” Galations 6:9, 10

The world is watching us, Beloved.  God is raising up a standard!

We are to care for those who cannot care for themselves.  In Proverbs 31, King Lemuel’s mother taught him to, “Open your mouth for the mute, For the rights of all the unfortunate.  Open your mouth, judge righteously, And defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.” And the worthy woman “extends her hand to the poor, And she stretches out her hands to the needy.” (verse 20)

Isn’t this the crux of the gospel?  We were afflicted with sin, and helpless, unable to save ourselves!  God, in His mercy, took action in His loving kindness and did for us what we could not do for ourselves.  Jesus took our burden of sin upon himself, suffering the consequences for us, and imparted his righteousness upon us so that we can stand blameless before a Holy Father.  We were the helpless and the needy.  Now we are the redeemed and reconciled.

We are to extend kindness to our enemies.  In Luke 6:35-36, Jesus said, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Do our enemies deserve our kindness?  No, but God is gracious toward me despite my undeservedness, and He expects me to love others as He loves me.  Sometimes all we can do for our enemies is to pray for them, and that is a lot.  We have assurance that the heartfelt and persistent prayer of the righteous accomplishes much. (James 5:16)

Kindness is Merciful.  However, it isn’t always nice.  Really.

Kindness isn’t always pleasant and agreeable.  Kindness proactively looks out for the best interests of others.  It meets needs, which isn’t necessarily always what a body wants.

Romans 2:4 tells us that God’s kindness leads us to repentance.  This change of heart involves humility and conviction, and all too often the road to recognizing our wrong and what our soul is hungering for involves discipline.  In this case kindness has to be tough.  It has to be tenacious.  Oh, yes, it must be self sacrificing.

When my nephew, Joshua,  was little he was infatuated with trains.  Our house was situated just off the highway.  The road laid between us and the train tracks.  On one occasion Joshua heard the train whistle, and captivated, he darted away from his father-my brother–and ran across our yard and straight into the highway.  I’ve never seen my brother run so fast in his life.  Hot in pursuit, he caught his son up into his arms in time to pull him out from in front of an oncoming car. He later told me that they were so close to the car that he had made eye contact with the driver.  It scared him to death, but his son was still blissfully pointing and straining for the train.  In kindness, his parents saw to it that he knew better than to ever leave the safety of the yard again, train or no train.

Isaiah 54:7,8 God said, “For a brief moment I forsook you, But with great compassion I will gather you.  In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment, But with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you, says the Lord your Redeemer.”

In this passage, Israel’s disobedience had resulted in her captivity and dispersion.  God allowed her to experience pain to bring her back into relationship with Himself.  Better a “brief” time of suffering to lead them repentance so that they could enjoy an eternity of lovingkindess in paradise with God.

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As Christ followers we are commissioned to share the truth of the gospel with boldness, even if it causes others or ourselves discomfort.  We all know John 3:16   “For God so loved the world” that he gave his only Son to die in our place.  What Jesus endured for our sakes was severe, so that we would not have to experience the severity of God ourselves (Romans 11:22), but can continue in God’s kindness.

Scripture lays out guidelines for discipline in the church, to bring us to repentance and fruitfulness if we abide in Christ.  Parents are instructed in Proverbs 23 not to withhold correction from their children. God himself says that He disciplines those whom He loves.

Kindness isn’t always “nice,” but it is always loving, and It is God’s will for you.

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone;  just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” Colossians 3:12-14

 

This devotional was written to use in conjunction with  A Woman’s Walk with God, Growing in the Fruit of the Spirit  by Elizabeth George.  The other devotionals in this series on the Fruit of the Spirit can be found on THIS PAGE.

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Abiding in Christ, the Secret to a Fruitful Life

To Use the Index of the Other Posts in this series, please scroll to the bottom of the page.

 

The theme that our Women’s Ministry adopted for this year is “Abide.”  We’re  learning what scripture has to say about the Fruit of the Spirit, reading Elizabeth George’s book, “A Woman’s Walk With God, Growing in the Fruit of the Spirit.”

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Why We Need to Abide

Jesus explains the importance of Abiding in John chapter 15:4,5.  “Abide in me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

Jesus has just washed his disciples’ feet.  They have observed Passover together in the upper room, and Judas has gone on his errand of betrayal.  Jesus has been telling them that He is going to be leaving to go to His Father. Can you imagine that they may have felt frightened and confused?   Jesus comforts them, telling them that He will not leave them as orphans.  He is sending them a Helper, the Holy Spirit, and they can continue to have fellowship with Him, and so can we, if we abide in Him.

When we are saved into a relationship with Jesus, the secret to living a fruitful life is Abiding.

Abiding: What is it?

I am assuming that if you are still reading, that you have some idea about the choices we can make to continue growing in that relationship: spending time reading God’s Word in order to learn more about His heart and what He wants for us, talking to Him in prayer, taking time to listen for His voice in our lives, and obeying Him.

The Greek word for abide, in its various forms, means to remain; it’s where you put down roots and make your home; it’s to be held, continually; it endures; remains as one and doesn’t leave; abide tarries for… it waits.  Does your heart wait upon the Lord?

There’s a difference between going through the motions of reading, praying and obeying because it’s the right thing to do and getting up in the morning with anticipation, looking forward to spending time with Him and seeing what the Lord has for you today.

I can’t tell you what truly abiding should look like for you because everyone has to come to that place of audacious love in their own way.  I think the secret lies in recognizing the magnitude of what Christ has done for you.  The cry of my heart this past year has been, “Jesus, help me love you more!”  I want to be like the woman in Luke 7 who annointed Jesus with sweet smelling oil and washed His feet with her tears.  When the Pharisee who owned the house where they were meeting criticized her, Jesus told him that it was obvious that her many sins were forgiven because of the great love she showed him. “He who is forgiven little, loves little.” (verse 47)

Don’t let the joy of your salvation diminish as time passes.  Keep your awe over what Christ has done for you.  Pour your time and effort into this relationship you have with God, and watch how He pours more into you than what you have given.  The more you give to Him, the more fruit you will see in your life.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control… these will be rich hallmarks of your character and will saturate your interactions with others.

A Misnomer explained

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away;” (verses 1,2a)

Several years ago I watched a video series by Focus on the Family which featured Ray Vander Laan.  It was a tour of the Holy Lands, and in one tour he elaborated on these verses in John 15.  He explained that grape vines were planted where they flourished best: in harsh soil.  He also explained that the translations we read are not the best explanation of what the original language meant to imply.

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The vine is established and the branches are cultivated by the vine dresser, the gardener, for one purpose only–to bear fruit.  “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, he takes away;” (vs 2)  It’s a common teaching that this is referring to “dead wood” or those who are not living Christ-like lives because they were never really saved.  We often read this and think it means that they will be removed and carried away.  Only this verse says, “Every branch in Me,”  If we are saved we are in Christ, and if we are in Christ as this verse says, we know that the will of God is that Jesus will never lose those who the Father has given Him (John 6:39).  They are not removed.

The more accurate translation would say that He will lift them up.  If the plants are allowed to lay on the ground they can become too moist and dirty and can mildew.  If they become sick, they do not produce.  The vine dressers in the old country lifted the vines up by placing large stones at the base of the plant.  The branches have to be washed and tied up–lifted up– so that they can begin bearing.  Notice what the next verse says,

“You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”

When we put our trust in Jesus as our Savior, our sin is forgiven. We are in Christ and belong to Him, but we are human and we still sin, even when we don’t want to.  Paul put it like this:  “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.” Romans 7:15

The sin that persists in our lives is like the dirt and mildew on the branches… God must lift us up and clean us so that “we may share in His holiness.” Hebrews 12:10  This looks like discipline.   “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”( verse 11)  It is in our best interest to cooperate with his discipline.  The results are worth it!

And what about the branches that are already producing fruit?

“He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.”  (verse 2b)

When we bought our house it had an old apple tree in the front yard.  A very large aspen tree had grown up behind it, shading it, and so the branches of the fruit tree had grown up and over, all to one side.  My husband took out the aspen tree last spring to allow light to get to the tree, but, unfortunately a good pruning wasn’t on the docket until fall.  I have never seen a tree with so many blossoms, and the bees did their job!  Oh, the apples that grew!  Many dropped off when they were still tiny because the tree simply could not sustain so much, but what continued to grow had us so excited.  Fall could not come soon enough!

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Then a wind storm came.  Need I say more?  Those big branches that were growing the wrong direction?  Snap.  They were still hanging, but not by much.  We propped them up and prayed for them a lot.  The apples on those branches never reached their full potential.  They were smaller than the fruit on the other branches, and did not ripen completely, so they were more sour and not sweet.  They were good for sauce, but not much else.

Sisters, we don’t want to be like those broken branches.  We want to be pruned so that we grow straight and strong.  We want light to get where it needs to go and put our energy into the things that are worthy of our calling.

Grape vines are heavily pruned, much more than apple trees.  My understanding is that the vine dresser cuts them back so far that they can look quite pitiful, but the more that is cut away, the bigger, sweeter, and more plentiful the harvest.  This is what we want. This is what identifies us as belonging to Him.

I have gone through seasons of pruning.  It’s not pleasant.  God cut away relationships. He cut away pride.  He hacked away at my sin of worry–one by one, as the circumstances I had always feared came to pass and as I was forced to let go of self, I learned I would live and, I learned to lean into Him more. After awhile, like Job, sometimes God will restore what He has removed from our hands, but He reminds us to remain in His love. When the season of pruning has ended, don’t go back.  Don’t forget.

Jesus said that he shared these things so that “My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” (verse 11)

Our piano teacher is going to be 95 this month.  She is the most wonderful lady.  She saw me reading one day and asked me what I was learning.  I told her I was studying John 15 and pruning and she sat down across from me, smiling, and said, “Well now, that’s the thing,” her eyes twinkled, “I’m not the person I used to be.”

Isn’t that the glorious thing?  I’m not the person I used to be, and I am so very thankful!

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”   1 Corinthians 15:10

 

 

You can find the other devotionals in this series on the Fruit of the Spirit on  THIS PAGE.

This devotional was written to use in conjunction with  A Woman’s Walk with God, Growing in the Fruit of the Spirit by Elizabeth George.

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Thanks to Pixabay for the photos of the grape vines.