Jesus was led by the Spirit

Jesus stepped out of his sandals and into the muddy Jordan. For the first time he noticed the weariness of his feet as the river drifted lazily over them. He had traveled south for three days to get to where the baptizer was working.

 “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. Make straight the way of the Lord!”John’s voice stirred the crowd that had gathered. Jesus stepped forward into the deeper water drawing ever closer to the one who was baptizing. There was a hint of wonder in John’s tone as he asked Jesus the question, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus smiled and answered, “This is the proper way to do everything God requires of us.”

Descending into the water, Jesus felt the urge to pray.  His lips were moving in a prayer even as he was going under. As he came up from the muddy water, he lifted his face to heaven and kept praying. Earlier he had discovered some of what his Father was asking him do, and now he was affirming his willingness . . . and waiting.

The clouds parted. The sun shone brightly. Or was it more than the sun? For those standing on the shore it appeared as if heaven’s light was shining only on a man in the middle of the river. His face and hands were uplifted in prayer . . . still waiting.

John stepped back, his eyes drawn heavenward in wonder. He had baptized hundreds before, but the likes of this he had never seen. The light was descending. Slowly. Holding . . . Holding . . . Holding. Floating like a dove over the waiting man. Then suddenly the light was gone — almost as if it had entered the man standing waist deep in the river.

It was only then that they heard his voice, the source indistinguishable, but not the words. “This is my Son, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” Still standing in the river, Jesus lowered his hands. He looked around at the people’s faces and smiled. They were the reason he had come. He began to move towards the shore. As he did, he felt within him a power he had not previously known. It was through this power that he could help them in their greatest need.

For those who were watching from the shoreline, it appeared as though he left the river differently than he went in. He had gone in of his own accord, but as he neared the shore, it was as if someone was leading him.  Like a guide, but invisible to the eyes of the watchers. . .

Taken from Just Like Jesus-biblical strategies for growing well by Phil Moser, pages 39-40. Available at www.biblicalstrategies.com

Advertisements

Being led by the Spirit

My friend Mike is training to run a marathon. He’s in his fifties, so he watches what he eats and gets up early to run several days a week with friends. He’s always loved running. He once told me that he feels total freedom when he runs, but you’ll never see Mike run alone. He always runs with friends. He’s up to a half marathon now – running with a friend on his left and a friend on his right. It’s not that he lacks the courage to run alone; on the contrary, he has exceptional courage. Mike is legally blind. When he runs, he holds on to one end of a shoe string and his friend holds the other end. So while he cannot see where he’s running, he can still know the freedom he knew prior to losing his eyesight in his twenties.

Running for Mike is only possible because he is willing to be led. His willingness to follow another communicates a tremendous amount of trust in his running partners. He needs them. He depends on them even if they lead him down a path he may not have chosen for himself. He pays a great deal of attention to the slightest movement of the shoe string.

It is said of Jesus that he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. Jesus was willing to follow, even when it meant going to a place that he might not have chosen for himself. . .

It is significant that both times Paul uses the phrase “led by the Spirit” it is in the context of one’s battle with temptation. This is the context for Jesus as well. Clearly the lesson is this: our greatest need for dependence on the Holy Spirit takes place during our greatest times of temptation.

How might that change the nature of your battle with temptation? What if, when the desires of your heart began to heat up, you gave your undivided attention to the leading of the Holy Spirit? Like Mike, my marathon-running friend, your mind would be focused on the slightest movement of the shoestrings.

The Holy Spirit didn’t lead Jesus into temptation; he led Jesus through the temptation. Jesus needed to be willing to let him lead. So do you, and so do I.

Taken from Just Like Jesus – biblical strategies for growing well by Phil Moser, pages 50-51. Available for purchase at www.biblicalstrategies.com

Walking in the Spirit – Step 4

Walking Truth 4: Be Encouraged: Developing daily habits infers progress (Eph. 2:10).

 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10).

The question, “Where will you go when you die?” has certainly caused many to think about their eternal destiny. Yet, if we only think about salvation as an eternal matter we will miss much of what God expects of us this side of heaven, and we will grow easily discouraged. Here is why. When you became a new creation in Christ your purpose for living changed. You may not have thought about it that way at the time, but it’s true. You may have simply seen yourself as a lost sinner in need of a Savior, but Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that “we were created in Christ Jesus for good works.” God didn’t save us to alter only our eternal destiny; he recreated us to bring him glory now.

Prior to salvation our singular purpose was our pleasure (Eph. 4:17-19). While those old desires are still hanging around, our new purpose is to accomplish the good works that God has prepared for us to do (2:10). We are his workmanship, not our own. We live for him, not ourselves. This is where the image of the crucifixion is helpful to encourage the believer’s new change of purpose. We tend to limit the crucifixion to what happened to Jesus at a point-of-time in history past, but Paul saw the crucifixion as what happened to him when Jesus was crucified. He encourages us to do the same.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20).

Motivated by the love Jesus had for him, Paul lived out his life loving others. Just like Jesus gave himself for Paul, Paul desired to give himself for others – and in so doing, he brought glory to God. He no longer did works for himself, but for his Master (Gal. 1:10). This is why his works were good works (Eph. 2:10). By the grace of God, his purpose had changed.

Prior to the fall of man, God looked upon his creation and saw that it was simply good (Gen. 1: 10, 12, 21, 25), but on the sixth day of creation (after creating man) God saw that it was very good. Why the distinction? Because man alone was made in the image of God, hence man could bring God glory like nothing else in creation. When man fell he not only lost his relationship with God, he lost his divine purpose for living. When we become a new creation in Christ, we are enabled to fulfill that divine purpose again. Nothing in this life will bring encouragement like doing what you were created to do.

Walking, you may remember, is the New Testament metaphor for daily habits.  We are told that we are to “walk in good works.” Develop the daily habit of doing what you were called to do.

For years our family has spent a week of every summer with my wife’s family in the Colorado Rockies. Lost Valley Ranch is located in the Pike’s Peak National Forest. The floor of the valley is surrounded by towering, but climbable, mountains. So every summer I enjoy taking hikes in those mountains. Enjoy is a relative term. For someone who is used to breathing oxygen at sea level 51 weeks out of the year, it is hard work walking more than 100 paces when you’re 7,500 feet higher than New Jersey. What I really enjoy is looking back when I get to my destination.

Walking in good works is a lot like hiking in the mountains. It’s hard work, but just like God empowers my physical body to walk at high altitudes, he empowers my spirit to do works for him that I never dreamed possible. And when I stop and look back, I can’t believe how far God has brought me.

We find encouragement for the daily task, because we are doing what we were recreated to do all along. Walk in good works and be encouraged.

Walking in the Spirit – Step 3

Walking Truth 3: Be Focused. Developing daily habits requires changing habitual thought patterns (Eph. 2:2-3; 4:18).

 . . . You formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind . . . (Eph. 2:2-3 NASV).

We often think of habits as the things that we do. Yet, few things become habits so quickly as the thoughts that we think. You probably do a number of “mindless” tasks to prepare to go to work or school in the morning. Yet, are they really “mindless?” Or are they mental habits? Things like: brushing your teeth, taking a shower, pouring the cereal, and making the coffee. Our hurried culture even captures this truth. We say: “I never gave it a second thought.” Are we not inferring that we gave it a first thought?

This truth brings both good news and bad. The good news is that our thoughts are only habits, not involuntary actions. So, by the power of the Spirit, we can choose what we think about. There is hope for the destruction of old thought patterns and the development of new ones. The bad news is that because these thoughts come so quickly and frequently they are challenging to break.

The passage in Ephesians is an excellent reminder of the location of our battlefield. When we formerly lived in the lusts of the flesh we were indulging our desires and our minds. Walking in the Spirit means we develop a new set of thought patterns that help us control those sinful desires.  There are different Greek words that the translators of Scripture captured with the word “mind.” The one used here (Eph. 2:3) could also be translated as “understanding or imagination.”

What are you imagining right now? What are you thinking? Are your imaginative fantasies developed from the “course of this world” or from the “mind of your Master?”Are you bending your mind around a sexual fantasy? Are you dreaming about how you might spend a million dollars? Are you imagining the pleasure of the upcoming weekend or retirement? Such imaginations are thinking like the world. They are making your thoughts all about you. There is nothing of the sweet service of Jesus in them (Mark 10:44-45). This is why Paul challenged us to control our minds (2 Cor. 10:5; Phil. 4:8). He also gave this strict warning “. . . do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).

One of my favorite childhood memories was hearing my grandfather say grace at the table. I confess it wasn’t my favorite memory at the time, because his prayers were long, and grandma’s cooking was good! But you always knew when Grandpa’s prayer was coming to an end, because he would say, “Lord, forgive us where we have sinned against you in word, deed, or thought.” In his simple way he grasped the importance of your thinking if you were to be victorious over sin.

My Grandpa understood that if you were headed into battle you better know the location of the battlefield.

How to to walk in the Spirit – Step 2

Here’s the second principle for walking in the spirit: Be Patient. Developing daily habits requires small steps. (Gal. 6:8-9).

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.  And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:7-9).

Within 8 verses of God’s reminder to walk in the Spirit (5:25), we find another metaphor: sowing and reaping. This metaphor has a note of encouragement attached. Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (6:9).

The word picture of “sowing and reaping” reminds us that patience is a requirement where daily habits are being developed. The new habits may spring up over night, but they won’t bear fruit overnight.

It is Chuck Swindoll who is credited with the following: success = short-term goals + high accountability. If you desire to grow to be like Christ it won’t happen overnight. It takes time for new habits to bear fruit. The high accountability serves as an encouragement for you to do the task daily.  

Do the task daily, and it will become a habit. Do the habit daily, and it will bear fruit.

My dad was a farmer. While he went to college to become a school teacher, farming never really left his blood. He loved to see things grow. One of my earliest recollections with my dad was us kneeling down in the soil of our Indiana farm with our faces close to the ground. There we could see the corn just popping through the surface. I never once remember my dad bragging about how he made the corn grow. He saw himself responsible for the sowing, weeding, feeding, protecting, and harvesting the crop.

Here’s the lesson every farmer knows: you do the sowing, God does the growing.

The same is true of one’s growth in Christ. One of the reasons we grow discouraged with slow growth is because we believe in some way we are responsible for the growth. Hold that thought and remember; you do the sowing, God does the growing.

Do the daily task, let it become a daily habit, and watch as the daily habit bears fruit.

Be patient. Developing daily habits requires small steps. Rejoice in the growth you do see, and pray to the Lord of the harvest that more growth may appear.

Learning to apply the work of the Spirit

One of the most helpful analogies I ever heard regarding the fruit of the Spirit was to think of the fruit of the Spirit as toolbox. Inside were tools for every situation. You wouldn’t send a hammer to do the job of screwdriver, nor would you attempt to saw a board with a wrench. Likewise, when you enter into challenging relationships you should choose the part of the fruit that is most effective for that difficulty. To do so you will need to learn the fruit, and practice it. Only then will you become proficient in its application. I have included my working definitions of each part of the fruit of the Spirit. You can use these or develop your own through reflection and Bible study.

The point is this: until you know them, you will not be able to apply them. Certainly we can depend upon the Holy Spirit to do his part. How are we applying the work he has done on our behalf?

  • Love is a sacrificial choice (1 Jn. 3:16), of words accompanied by actions (1 Jn. 3:18), regardless of attraction or response (Rom. 5:8), generated by God not by oneself (Jn. 21:15-18)
  • Joy is a pre-determined attitude (Phil. 4:4), of praise for God’s goodness (Psa. 5:11), by maintaining an eternal focus (Psa. 16:11), in the midst of difficulty (Heb. 12:2). 
  • Peace is a settled confidence of mind (Phil. 4:7), from a right relationship with God (Phil. 4:9), unaffected by circumstantial change (4:11). 
  • Patience is a learned attitude (Col. 1:11), revealed through a joyful willingness (Jam. 1:2), to remain under difficulty (Jam. 1:3-4), in order to learn God’s lessons (Jam. 5:11).
  • Kindness is a tender spirit purposefully expressed (Rom 2:4), sacrificially given (Eph 2:7), especially to the undeserving (Titus 3:4). 
  • Goodness is focused resolve (2 Thes. 1:11), that drives us to become actively involved, in the life of another (2 Chron. 24:16), consistently expressed through generosity (Neh. 9:25).
  • Faithfulness is a promise (Rom. 3:3; Lam. 3:23), to keep one’s word, and do one’s best (1 Th. 1:3), with a servant–attitude focused on the Master’s approval (Matt 25:21).  
  • Gentleness is an attitude of humility (Jam. 1:21), stirred by grateful spirit (Num. 12:3; Ps. 90:15), revealed in a tenderness to others (Eph. 4:2), sustained by a growing trust in God (Matt. 5:5). 
  • Self-control is the growing realization that one’s desire to please self was crucified with Christ, and replaced with a desire to glorify God (Gal. 2:20).

Working with the given definitions, make a list of the various relationships you encounter and prayerfully consider which tool best suits the challenge in that relationship. For example, perhaps you need patience with your kids, mercy with your spouse, and love with your fellow employee. Keep those ideas in the forefront of your mind as you engage in that particular relational challenge. If your children are disrespectful, ask yourself, “How can I best demonstrate patience in this context?” Now depend upon the Holy Spirit’s leading to enable you to do so.

What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit?

Among the gospel writers only Luke recorded that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit. The word he chose was one that communicates abounding, abundant, complete and perfect. The tendency may be to think of this as a unique relationship that the Holy Spirit had with Jesus because of their previous relationship within the Godhead. But Luke used the same terminology in the book of Acts to describe the church’s first martyr, Steven.

God wants us to know that being “full of the Holy Spirit” is something that can happen to those who are fully human. This filling was both true of Jesus and Stephen, and it can be true of us too. To be full of the Holy Spirit is to be under his control. Jesus entered the wilderness under the control of the Spirit (Luke 4:1).

Paul gives an even clearer understanding of the Spirit controlled life in his letter to the Ephesians.

Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18 – NLT).

When someone has had too much to drink, we say that they are no longer “in control.” By becoming intoxicated they have chosen to relinquish their control to another substance. This is the meaning behind the word filled. Paul warns the believers not to be “under the control” of the alcohol, but rather be “under the control of the Holy Spirit.”

He carefully formed the word “be filled” to reveal four essential elements about our relationship with the Holy Spirit. Each of these is hidden in the Greek grammar. Among other things, the Greek language communicates the meaning of its verbs through mood, form, voice, and tense.

(1) This isn’t optional.

Be filled is in the imperative mood. The imperative mood is one of command. When our mom gave a command we knew it wasn’t optional.  God wanted us to know that being filled with the Spirit is not optional and so he chose the mood of command.

(2) This is for all of us.

Be filled is in the plural form. Being filled with the Spirit is not simply for a few – the spiritually elite or hyper-religious. It is a command given for each of us. No one is excluded from this command, and so God chose the “all-inclusive” plural form.

(3) This happens to us, not by us.

Be filled is in the passive voice. The active voice is the doer of the action, but the passive voice is the receiver of the action. Imagine I am holding a pitcher filled with water, and you are holding an empty glass. If you wish for your glass to be filled then as I begin pouring the water from the pitcher you don’t fill your glass you simply move your glass so that I can fill it. This isn’t simply true of pitchers and glasses. We need to put our open hearts in close proximity to where the Holy Spirit is active.

(4) This is a repeated event.

Be filled is in the present tense. Some have properly translated it “be being filled.” The present tense reveals a daily, moment by moment repeated event. I remember an old preacher who once said he needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit every day, because he leaked! That’s a good reminder for all of us.