Bother to Obey?

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Why, when it can be so hard, do we bother to obey the Lord? This (with a good bit of editing and updating) is the answer Hannah Whitall Smith gave over 100 years ago:

“When we choose obedience, we bring joy to our Lord as well. Our deep love for him is perfectly reasonable, but the fact that he loves us so deeply is truly amazing! What does ‘loving him back’ look like? For one thing, it looks like obedience. Jesus told his disciples that the first and greatest commandment is to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ (Mark 12:30). That commandment leads us to ask ourselves:

  • Will we make him our greatest love?
  • Will we follow him, even when there’s no apparent reward, even if following him leads to a life of separateness or suffering?
  • Will we let him have complete control of all we are and all we have?
  • And what if our Christian friends don’t agree with our level of devotion?

“Say, ‘Yes, Lord, yes!’ to each of these questions. Pour out all your devotion on our Lord. Give him your enthusiastic surrender, even if it upsets some of the more moderate Christians around you. Why should you care if some don’t understand your choice? An intimate friendship with Christ is both your duty and your joy. When Christ makes his ways known to us, we have the great privilege of walking in them.

“Your whole-hearted devotion is precious to the Lord. Perhaps others don’t approve, but he does, and that’s enough. Don’t hold back. Lay your whole life open to him and say each morning, ‘Lord, help me to live this day in a way that pleases you. Give me spiritual insight to discover your will. Guide my every step.’ Don’t let a day, or even an hour, go by in which you aren’t consciously following him.”

I’ve loved Hannah’s words for years. They challenge and console me. How do they strike you today?

 

Photo by Jon Tyson via Unsplash.com

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Facing the Facts

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In Bible times, once an offering was made, the transaction was final. No Israelite ever ran back up to the altar and snatched his gift away. As Christians, though, sometimes we make a gift of ourselves to God and then, when we don’t notice a change in the way we feel, we “take ourselves back,” so to speak. The mental progression might look something like this:

  • First, newly aware of the Lord who loves us, or of some matter where he is asking us to surrender our will, we falls to our knees and ask God to take over, solemnly giving our lives to the Lord.
  • Then, not long afterward, we realizes that we don’t really feel much different.
  • Thus, we conclude that we never really surrendered ourselves to God. Despondent, we wonder if we should try again or give up altogether.

Human nature tends to put feeling first and faith second, with facts trailing third. God’s way is just the opposite: fact first, faith second and feeling last of all. Sometimes we have to accept by faith that which we can’t yet feel.

But here is the wonderful fact of the matter: We can be confident that if we ask anything according to God’s will, he hears us, and we will have what we ask of him (1 John 5:14b-15). Is it his will that we surrender to him, that we put him in charge of our lives? Of course. Does he want to mold us and use us to accomplish his will? Absolutely. So, according to the facts of God’s word, we can be sure that when we ask God to take over, he hears us and agrees to our request.

Hannah Whitall Smith, whose words infuse this writing, gave this advice about daily surrender. “Ask the Holy Spirit to show you all that is contrary to him, either in your heart or in your life. If he brings anything to mind, give it to the Lord immediately and say in reference to it, ‘Your will be done.’ If he shows you nothing, then you must believe that there is nothing and must conclude that you have given him all. You may find it helpful to pray this prayer daily or even many times a day. ‘Lord, I am yours; I yield myself up entirely to you, and I believe that you accept me. I leave myself with you. Work in me all the good pleasure of your will, and I will trust you.’”

The fact: God wants us to give him control of our lives.

The faith: When we ask him to take over, we believe he accepts the gift of ourselves.

And as for the feeling? We can stand on God’s promises and wait for that to come later.

No, You Take That!

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Matthew is thirteen, man enough to learn about the tougher points of life, child enough to interpret them in an open and innocent way. Last week he overheard his younger sister ask, “What will happen to Grandpa’s house and all of his things when he dies?”

Lisa, Matthew’s mom, described how a Last Will and Testament works, explaining that, sometimes, just when they ought to be comforting one another, family members argue about how to divide precious possessions after someone dies. She went on to tell about a friend whose parents passed away without a will, and of the tension that ensued as family members vied for the belongings of their lost loved one.

Why do we ever let our useless cravings for things get in the way of our love for each other?

Lisa is one of three sisters. They lost their mother years ago, but their father still lives nearby and is a vital member of family gatherings. Matthew, well acquainted with the dynamics of his relatives, thought for a moment and said, “In that case, grandpa definitely needs a will.” I suspect Lisa was pretty disappointed by Matthew’s response, but only for a moment.

Matthew went on to say, “I can just hear the three of you now…

‘No, you take that.’

‘No, you should have it.’

‘I want you to be the one…’”

Romans 12:20 reads, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”

Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.

Someday I will memorize those verses. For today, though, I hope you will join me in remembering (and trying to apply) these words: 

No, you take that.

Happiness Is…

37          How do you define happiness? Here’s my answer, so far, with a defiition of worry thrown in for good measure. I’d like to hear your definitions as well.

Don’t worry. In the sixth chapter of Matthew, Jesus tells us three times, “Do not worry.” Refuse to panic. Stop wallowing in fear. Don’t lose your peace. Keep your mind from endlessly mulling over the negative possibilities in life. Instead, keep your focus on the Lord who loves you.

Be happy. The Bible gives plenty of examples of circumstantial happiness. Leah was happy when she gave birth to a son. The Israelites were happy when they prospered and when they held festivals.

We all have days when our circumstances make us smile, but seldom can we create those days or manipulate those circumstances. Thankfully, God tells us about another kind of happiness that never depends on where we are, who we are or what we have.

  • “To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness” (Ecclesiastes 2:26 NIV).
  • “May the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful” (Psalm 68:3 NIV).
  • “Happy is the man God corrects” (Job 5:17 KJV).

       Is happiness a state of well-being? Horatio Spafford was able to pen the famous hymn “It Is Well with My Soul” shortly after his four daughters died in a shipwreck. His well-being rested in trusting God.

       Perhaps happiness is a sense of order, of “all’s right with the world.” All will never be right with this world, but as my college chaplain used to say, “God is on his throne. His promises are true.” Those two rock-solid facts are all we need to let happiness filter in through the hard times, stemming from an utter conviction that God is ordering things according to his plan.

       What about contentment? Surely that is an important element of happiness. Paul explained that the strength Christ gave him was his secret to being content in every situation.

       Do we need love or a greater purpose in life in order to be happy? Our Lord offers both.

Hannah Whitall Smith wrote, “Perfect obedience would be perfect happiness, if only we had perfect confidence in the power we were obeying.”[i] So maybe happiness boils down to trusting the Lord.

Does that cover it, or is the definition more complicated? How do you define happiness? I’d love to read your thoughts, so please post them here!

 


 


[i] Hannah W. Smith, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life (Boston: Willard Tract Repository, 1875), 199.

But Then There Is God (From HWS)

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“I once poured out my troubles to another Christian, who answered me by saying, ‘Yes, all you say may be very true, but then, in spite of it all, there is God.’

‘But,’ I continued, ‘surely you did not understand how big my problems are.’

‘Oh, yes, I did,’ replied my friend, ‘but then, as I tell you, there is God.’ Her answer was disappointing, completely unsatisfactory. I knew God was there, of course, but I felt I needed something more. I came to the conclusion that my friend, for all her great reputation as a spiritual mentor, was simply unable to grasp my particular situation.

Because my need was so great, I went to my friend again and again, always hoping that she would eventually understand the importance of my difficulties and give me adequate help. It was of no avail. I never received any other answer but the simple reply, with an air of entirely dismissing the subject, ‘Yes, I know; but there is God.’

At last, by dint of her continual repetition, I became convinced that my friend really and truly believed the mere fact of the existence of God, as the Creator and Redeemer of mankind, and of me as a member of the race, was an all-sufficient answer to every possible need of His creatures. Because she said it so often and seemed so sure, I began to consider whether, after all, God might not be enough, even for my overwhelming need. At last my eyes were opened to the fact of the absolute and utter all-sufficiency of God.

My troubles faded, and I did nothing but wonder how I could ever have been such an idiot as to be troubled by them, when all the while there was God, the almighty and all-seeing God, the God who had created me, and was therefore on my side, and eager to care for me and help me. I had found out that God was enough, and my soul was at rest.

God is, must be our answer to every question and every cry of need. There is no lack in Him.” —Hannah W. Smith, Living in the Sunshine (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1906), 246-249, edited for the contemporary reader.

Minding God

220px-Hannah_Whitall_SmithI spent three years studying the works of Hannah Whitall Smith. Her theology wasn’t perfect, it appears she had a bit of a temper, and I suspect she, like the rest of us, had plenty of other flaws. But, oh, how she could write about trusting and following her Lord! Here is a snippet from page 342 of one of her lesser known books, Old Testament Types and Teachings.

“A dear little girl of my acquaintance, whose life was the truest picture of childlike faith I ever saw, said one morning, as she kneeled in prayer, “Dear Lord, I thank Thee that I have nothing to do all day today, but just to mind.” Nothing to do but mind! Ah! This is the blessed secret!”

My first reaction to reading that quote was, “That sounds so peaceful. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could say the same?” Really, though, when you consider everything you have planned today, doesn’t it all boil down to minding God? So why do we get all balled up about our task lists? You’ll find this line in many of my blogs, because I think it’s so important: Surely there is time to do all God wants us to do. The Lord who loves us wouldn’t give us more than we can handle, then sit back and chuckle at us as we strive and fail. The trick is to figure out what he has put on our plates and carefully disregard everything else.

My husband’s favorite verse is Micah 6:8:  “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  This is what God wants, but he fleshes out that directive differently in each of us. If we will only still our hyperactive hearts and ask him to show us each day how he would have us spend our time, perhaps we could also delight in saying that today we have nothing to do but mind.