Our interest in living life in the fast lane does not lend itself to the characteristics we have traditionally attached to godliness. There is an old hymn that I remember being sung when I first started going to church: “Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord; abide in Him always and feed on His Word... Take time to be holy, the world rushes on.”
We read those words, believe them, and would even defend them…but, we draw a deep breath as we confess that they are more likely to be strange words to us. The idea of taking the kind of time “to be holy” seems a little out of date! Plus it doesn’t always make sense!
Does this mean, then, that it’s not possible to be holy? Does a fast-paced lifestyle force us to forfeit godliness? Do we need to intentionally slow-down and retreat from our busyness in order to be godly? Obviously, the answer to all these questions is “no!” If godliness were linked to a certain culture or era, then most of us would be out of luck! As much as we might enjoy a slower and less pressured lifestyle, God has not called everyone to a place like that.
So that brings us to a bottom-line question I rarely hear asked these days: What exactly does it mean to be holy...to be godly?
Godliness cannot be confused with how a person looks – even though that can be hard for some of us to get beyond! Nor is it to be confused with what a person drives or owns. So, as tough as it is for us to be free of envy and critical thoughts, it is essential that we remind ourselves that “God looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). And so, whatever we may say about godliness, it is not skin deep.
Godliness is something below the surface of a life, deep down in the realm of attitude. It’s an attitude towards God Himself. The longer I think about this, the more I believe that a person who is godly is one whose heart is sensitive toward God...one who takes God seriously. This shows itself up in a very obvious mannerism: The godly person hungers and thirsts after God. In the words of the psalmist, the godly person has a soul that “pants” for the living God (Psalm 42:1-2). What matters is the individual’s inner desire to know God...to listen to Him...and to walk humbly with Him.
Godly people possess an attitude of willing submission to God’s will and ways. Whatever He says, goes. And whatever it takes to carry it out is the very thing the godly person desires to do. The godly soul “pants” and “thirsts” for God. Remember, the godly take God seriously.
"Why is My language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say” (John 8:43)
Good communication is always important. When things don’t happen as planned…when the leader's wishes are not carried out precisely...when the father's instructions are not obeyed implicitly...when the pupil does not benefit from the teaching - we often put it down to bad communication. And, more often than not, the blame is laid squarely on the communicator. Let’s think about that.
Someone once wrote, "I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant".
Good communication is a two-way affair; it is more than good speaking; it also involves good listening. If you want to benefit from God's teaching and instruction, then you need to be a good listener. Just wanting to do things for God, will not of themselves bring about the desired change in your life. You must learn to listen!
Jesus was the master communicator. And yet He was often misunderstood. Even though He spoke the truth clearly, His hearers jumbled up His message. They interpreted what He said according to their own desires, or their own experiences, and that gave them reasons for rejecting what He said. Jesus said they were not able to understand because they were not able to listen to His word (John 8:43). The real reason actually was that they didn’t want to listen to the truth. You see, God’s truth made them face up to the need for change. Do you see the progression in this? Because they didn't listen they couldn’t understand. And because they couldn’t understand they rejected what was spoken. And because they rejected what was spoken, change became impossible. It's not that they hadn't heard; they had simply refused to listen.
You can’t be a good follower if you are not a good 'listener'. Here's a simple formula that will perhaps help you to remember: LISTENING = HEARING + OBEYING.
When you come to that place of feeling that God is finally getting through to you, it's not because He has developed better communication skills; it’s because you are now HEARING what He has to say.
Remember, though, that the opposite is also true. If you find yourself distanced from God, it's probably because you have stopped listening. Be careful! If you want to tune in to a clear message on God's radio, you have got to eliminate all the other static in your life - especially rebelliousness to His desire to direct you. It’s time to start LISTENING!
Eat Your Food!
I still remember my mum’s words to me as a young boy whenever I would dawdle over the meal she had so lovingly prepared and placed in front of me. “Eat your food! You’re not leaving the table until you do!” she would say as I fussed over my food. She knew it was for my good and that I needed it. On the other hand, I was in a battle because I obviously thought otherwise.
"I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my daily bread" (Job 23:12)
What we fail to appreciate so often is that the extent to which you trust God's Word is the extent to which you will reap His blessings. God's Word is the very expression of who He is! It’s the hope of all that He has prepared for us! And it’s the way in which He communicates both Himself and His will is for our lives.
It’s amazing how many people would hesitate at the suggestion that they go without any natural food for an extended period of time. Similarly, they would consider it absolute nonsense if I were to suggest that a meal eaten at the start of a week should be sufficient to last them for the whole week. And yet many people live their spiritual lives on "morsels" that are picked up once a week! Some have not had any spiritual food for years and are spiritually dead because of it!
Spiritual food, like natural food, is meant to be consumed every day! When we begin the day with the Bible open before us, and with a prayer on our lips, then we enter that day with a far better perspective. So let me give you some suggestions as to how we should approach God’s sustenance each and every day:
Are you looking to hear from God? Then you need to let David's thoughts be yours too: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path" (Psalm 119:105).
Please remember that you can’t love God more than you love and follow His Word! So stop fooling yourself and have your spiritual food today!
Pray with me: “Teach me, O Lord, through Your Word. May it be food for my soul and energy for my journey. Amen.”
Tantalised or Satisfied?
Jesus answered, “but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:14-15).
The story, that is found in John 4, of Jesus’ meeting with the woman at the well is only found in john’s gospel and not in the other gospels. It gives us an insight into Jesus’ commission ‘to preach the gospel to the poor; to heal the broken-hearted; to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind; to set at liberty those that are bruised; to preach the acceptable year of the Lord’ – words that are referenced in Isaiah 61:1-2. You see, in the life of this one woman, there is a poor, broken-hearted, blind and bruised person whose eyes were opened by the truth that Jesus spoke to her.
Jesus spoke to her of spiritual things. As usual, He used the natural to explain the spiritual. Water is essential to physical life, and without it we just descend into thirst. And so, there is a vital connection in this story with a source of water – it’s the well. The woman freely admitted her need to keep coming back time and time again to get water, and Jesus built on this. He connected this natural need to her spiritual need, because this also required life-sustaining water. However, the water of which Jesus spoke could not be drawn from any natural well. Instead, it was to be drawn from a spiritual well that would come from within her. Could Jesus REALLY make that happen? Yes! As He started telling her “all she had ever done” and it was this that caused her to think deeply about her circumstances and to realise how out-of-step she actually was.
The reality was that in her desire to meet her deep spiritual need, this woman kept returning to the very same well from which she had drunk previously - with no relief! She was, in fact, being tantalized by so many things that could not ultimately satisfy her!
In Greek mythology, King Tantalus offended the gods and was punished for it. He was put into a lake with water up to his chin, but whenever he tried to satisfy his thirst, the water would recede. Above his head hung some branches of delicious fruit, but whenever he reached out for the fruit, the branches would draw away from him. And so, Tantalus became the symbol of frustration, and is remembered today in our English word tantalize.
Jesus showed this woman in John 4 that outside of a personal relationship with God, the pleasures that are wrapped up in this world and, indeed, are part of the offering of this natural life, are tantalizing, unrewarding, and certainly not everlasting!
I wonder, are you being tantalized? Jesus is the only One who can refresh and satisfy you. What He asks – no, invites – is that you surrender your purpose to Him. A surrendered heart is the place where true satisfaction is found, because it’s satisfaction in Christ!
Pray with me: “Lord, may I draw water from the well of Your supply and have my eternal thirst truly quenched. May I never resort to having to come back again and again to an unsatisfying source. Amen.”
Pastor Stephen writes weekly with his thoughts for MBC.