The Disciplines of Life – Lesson #10: Desperation and Difficulty

This is the tenth lesson in our series, The Disciplines of Life. We have studied: Solitude; Discipleship; Dependability & Determination; Discernment, Decision & Duty; Declining Days, Deformity, & Disability; Danger, Daring and Darkness; Defamation and Defense; and Delight and Desire thus far. There are many disciplines that should be evident in the life of the Christian. In this lesson we want to look at the Disciplines of Desperation and Difficulty.

As we have been emphasizing in this series, these are called “disciplines” because they are not acquired without deliberate effort. Discipline is “Training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 360). We have been using, as an anchor for this series, a book by V. Raymond Edman published in 1948 titled The Disciplines of Life. Although Mr. Edman was associated with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, many of the things he has written resonate with me. Mr. Edman appears to have had a love for alliteration, as all thirty-0ne of the disciplines he wrote about begin with the letter “D.” Another source that I have used for this series that is not so “contrived” is the Twelve Spiritual Disciplines edited by Warren Berkley and Jon Quin and published by Expository Files.

Desperation

Life can be tough. Even as Christians, we may sometimes find ourselves in circumstances that cause us to despair. Or as Edman describes it, “We cannot strive nor struggle, flee nor even faint; we can only cry unto God” (Edman, p. 121).

Consider the following examples …

Peter

In Matthew 14:30, Peter cried, “Lord, save me.” As we look at the context of that plea of desperation by the apostle, we remember that he had been enjoying the safety of the boat, when his impetuosity caused him to step out of it onto the water and begin walking to Jesus.  “But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. ‘Save me, Lord!’ he shouted.

Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. ‘You have so little faith,’ Jesus said. ‘Why did you doubt me?’

“We may not approve his impetuosity nor his human impertinence in attempting to walk on the sea; but we must admire his implicit obedience and his deep devotion to his Lord” (Edman, p. 122).

The Disciples

Mark tells of another night when the disciples were with Jesus on the Sea of Galilee:

35 As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” 36 So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). 37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.

38 Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” 39 When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 41 The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!” (Mark 4:35-41, NLT).

“That terrible thought, ‘Carest thou not?’ had been forming in their minds as the wind and wave rose higher, and the ship began to founder. Darkness of night, danger of storm, depths of the sea with death all about them, then in desperation the disciples gave vent to their pent-up fears, ‘Carest thou not that we perish?’” (Edman, p. 123).

We can experience those same kinds of feelings. We sing a song that asks “Does Jesus care when my heart is pained too deeply for mirth and song, As the burdens press, and the cares distress, And the way grows weary and long? Does Jesus care when my way is dark With a nameless dread and fear? As the day-light fades into deep night shades, Does He care enough to be near? Does Jesus care when I’ve said ‘good-bye’ To the dearest on earth to me, And my sad heart aches till it nearly breaks Is it aught to Him? Does He see?” The resounding response of the chorus is, “O yes, He cares, I know He cares, His heart is touched with my grief; when the days are weary, the long night dreary, I know my Savior cares” (Does Jesus Care, WORDS: Frank E. Graeff, 1901).

In writing about this song, Robert J. Morgan says, “In his book, Lectures to My Students, Charles Haddon Spurgeon devoted a chapter to ‘The Minister’s Fainting Fits,’ warning his students of the dangers of discouragement and depression in the ministry. The chapter begins, ‘Fits of depression come over the most of us … The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.” He goes on to explain that, “A series of heartbreaks shattered his spirits, and Frank Graeff found himself in the unfamiliar valley of deep depress and despondency…. The truth of 1Peter 5:7 suddenly too hold of him ‘… casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Out of that experience, Frank wrote ‘Does  Jesus Care?’ with its series of commonly asked questions, followed by this resounding reply: O yes, He cares …” (Then Sings My Soul, p. 253).

The Tax Collector

Luke recounts the story of the Tax Collector

Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: 10 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14, NLT).

“If he had been so minded, like many of his day and ours, he could have blamed his sinful condition upon his family background, his heritage, environment, circumstances, evil companion. He really never had a chance: a poor home, no education, the pitiless strife of the street, ward politics, the dishonest and trickery of tax-gathering. Of course respectable people like yonder Pharisee despised him; he despised himself. Not only did he not blame his unhappy and unfortunate fate, he also laid no claim to any merit in God’s sight, no prayers, no fasting, no tithing, nothing of the Law. He was just a miserable, lost sinner, an ‘extortioner, unjust’ (v.11). He could only blame himself, and pray, ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner’ (v.13). And God had mercy upon him, instantly, completely; so that ‘this man went down to his home justified’ (v.14)” (Edman, p.125).

David

David testified:

When I refused to confess my sin,
    my body wasted away,
    and I groaned all day long.
Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
    My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Interlude

Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
    and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
    And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. Interlude

(Psalm 32:3-5, NLT)

We need to have this same attitude when we sin. We must not bury ourselves in denial. We must not try to run away from responsibility and accountability. We must not seek to transfer blame to others. Let us duplicate the attitude expressed by David in another of his psalms.

From the depths of despair, O Lord,
    I call for your help.
Hear my cry, O Lord.
    Pay attention to my prayer.

Lord, if you kept a record of our sins,
    who, O Lord, could ever survive?
But you offer forgiveness,
    that we might learn to fear you.

I am counting on the Lord;
    yes, I am counting on him.
    I have put my hope in his word.
I long for the Lord
    more than sentries long for the dawn,
    yes, more than sentries long for the dawn. (Psalm 130:1-6, NLT)

George Matheson 

Erdman quotes George Matheson, Thoughts for Life’s Journey (pp. 266-267) to further illustrate this discipline of despair, “My soul, reject not the place of thy prostration! It has ever been the robing room for royalty. Ask the great ones of the past what has been the spot of their prosperity; they will say, ‘It was the cold ground on which I once was lying.’ Ask Abraham; he will point you to the sacrifice of Moriah. Ask Joseph; he will direct you to his dungeon. Ask Moses; he will date his fortune from his danger in the Nile. Ask Ruth; she will bid you build her monument in the field of her toil. Ask David; he will tell you that his songs came from the night. Ask Job; he will remind you that God answered him out of the whirlwind. Ask Peter; he will extol his submission in the sea. Ask John; he will give the palm to Patmos. Ask Paul; he will attribute his inspiration to the light that struck him blind. Ask one more – the Son of Man. Ask Him whence has come His rule over the world. He will answer, ‘From the cold ground on which I was lying – the Gethsemane ground; I received my scepter there.’ Thou too, my soul, shalt be garlanded by Gethsemane. The cup thou fain wouldst pass from thee will be thy coronet in the sweet by-and-by. The hour of thy loneliness will crown thee. The day of thy depression will regale thee. It is thy desert that will break forth into singing; it is the trees of thy silent forest that will clasp their hands” (Edman, pp.126-127).

Disciplined by desperation, we come to depend upon our God! Our Almighty God will deliver us! As we sing, “What A Mighty God We Serve!” “Our God is an awesome God!”

Difficulty

William H. Prescott

Edman relates the difficulties of William H. Prescott as he attempted to write his historical accounts, The Conquest of Peru and its companion, The Conquest of Mexico. Prescott first received an injury to one of his eyes, and then the other became inflamed making it debilitated for the rest of his life. He made up for his lost sight, by procuring the services of a secretary who read to him the resource material that he needed for his writing. He then used a writing-case to commit his thoughts to paper without the aid of sight.

“This is the discipline of difficult, understood and overcome only by the indomitable in heart. Only the undaunted, despite aching head and failing sight, could say that others could be in deeper difficulty than they. Lesser souls would be swallowed up in their own sickness, sorrows and silence” (Edman, pp145-146).

John Milton

John Milton became totally blind at the age of forty-four and was forced to give up public service. But he did not give up nor cease to actively pursue his passion. During this time, he brought forth his immortal masterpieces, Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes.

Moses

“Moses had the handicap of age before he began his lifework. At forty, when life allegedly begins, he went into exile, to spend his days as an obscure shepherd of the desert. He endured the adjustments made necessary by the shifting from Pharaoh’s majestic court to a Midian sheepfold, with its solitude, silence and apparent uselessness. At eighty, when most men have retired from active service, he was called at the burning bush to become the Deliverer of his people. With reasons, he could object to this calling, saying ‘Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?’ (Exodus 3:11).” (Edman, pp, 146-147).

Mordecai

“Mordecai knew the humanly hopeless handicap of racial prejudice. He was a Jew in a strange land, and knew by experience the bitterness of unbridled racial bigotry. He had to warn his niece, Esther, not to reveal her nationality (Esther 2:20). Haman’s wrath knew no bounds when he was told that Mordecai was a Jew (3:4); with the result that he ‘sought to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus, even the people of Mordecai’ (3:6). The plot proceeded temporarily without hindrance, to the pleasure of Haman; while Mordecai was overcome with fear and grief (4:1-3). Only the soul that has felt the heel of the oppressor and the fury of the sadist can sense the sorrow that was Mordecai’s” (Edman, pp. 147-148)

Matthew

As a tax-collector, Matthew was familiar with social prejudice. Palestinians of his day viewed him as a traitor, as selling himself to be a servant of the hated Romans. They classed the publicans with the lowest of the population: the sinners. Matthew, however, was not overcome with social stigma. He responded immediately to the Lord’s call, “Follow me” (Matthew 9:9).

“Herein lies the discipline of difficulty: to recognize one’s limitation and handicaps; nevertheless, to rise up and do the impossible in spite of them. To yield to discouragement and difficulty is to be defeated. The handicap, I repeat, can be physical, racial, social, personal in any way; yet the soul that will rise up and follow the Saviour will know life that climbs with Bunyan’s Pilgrim the Hill Difficulty, to find on its summit the Palace Beautiful, whose windows face the sun-rising. Our discipline is to keep on climbing when sight is dim and strength is debilitated, when friends fail and foes are fierce, when handicaps hinder and hardships harry. God has use for the heart that no difficulties can deter!” (Edman, p. 149).

(Source: The Disciplines of Life, pp. 121-127, 143-149)

The Disciplines of Life – Lesson #9: Delight and Desire

This is the ninth lesson in our series, The Disciplines of Life. We have studied: Solitude; Discipleship; Dependability & Determination; Discernment, Decision & Duty; Declining Days, Deformity, & Disability; and Danger, Daring and Darkness, and Defamation and Defense thus far. There are many disciplines that should be evident in the life of the Christian. In this lesson we want to look at the Disciplines of Delight and Desire.

As we have been emphasizing in this series, these are called “disciplines” because they are not acquired without deliberate effort. Discipline is “Training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 360). We have been using, as an anchor for this series, a book by V. Raymond Edman published in 1948 titled The Disciplines of Life. Although Mr. Edman was associated with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, many of the things he has written resonate with me. Mr. Edman appears to have had a love for alliteration, as all thirty-0ne of the disciplines he wrote about begin with the letter “D.” Another source that I have used for this series that is not so “contrived” is the Twelve Spiritual Disciplines edited by Warren Berkley and Jon Quin and published by Expository Files.

Delight

“I Know how to abound” (Philippians 4:12)

What is “Delight”?

Dictionary.com defines it as “a high degree of pleasure or enjoyment; joy; rapture.” It was used in much the same way in New Testament times as is reflected in W. E. Vine’s definition: “Lit., “to rejoice with (anyone). To delight in (a thing) with (others),” signifies “to delight with oneself inwardly in a thing,” in Rom. 7:22”

“Delight is an affection of the ‘inmost heart’ (cf. Ps. 40:8). It signifies that in which one finds pleasure, i.e., the object of one’s love. In Prov. 5:19 the piel form of the verb rawa (lit. ‘drink one’s fill’) is used to denote being saturated with sensual pleasure.

Why is Delight a Life Discipline that We Should Develop?

As the term is used by Erdman, it describes a way of life that does not despise others, thinking that they get all the good things in life while we do not. “They seem to have abundance of resources, and all that goes with money, clothes, car, companions, ease and education, while we plod along, quite penniless; theirs, abundance of good looks, while we carry weary body and aching hear. The have prosperity and prominence, poise and position, friends and favor, family and affection, home and hospitality in the words of the Psalmist, ‘They have more than hear could wish (Ps. 73:7).” (Erdman, p.85)

The Discipline of Delight will humble us to appreciate what we have. The Discipline of Delight move us away from “score-keeping,” comparing what we have with what others have. The career of Moses illustrates wonderfully this Discipline of Delight.

How Did the Career of Moses Illustrate the Discipline of Delight?

By the world’s standard he had everything a person might want, but he gave it all away to serve God. From boyhood, Moses’ parents “saw that God had given them an unusual child.” (Heb. 11:23, NLT). Elsewhere in Scripture Moses is described as “lovely” (Acts 7:20, NASB), and “special” (Ex. 2:20, NLT)

He did not allow “pride of place,” as “the son of Pharaoh’s daughter” (Heb. 11:24; Ex. 2:10; Acts 7:21) to ruin his compassion. Moses did not lord his royalty over his lowly fellows, but rather “he went out to visit his own people, the Hebrews, and he saw how hard they were forced to work” (Ex. 2:11, NLT)

He did not allow his learning to puff up his estimation of himself in relation to his brethren.  “Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds” (Acts 7:22, NKJV)

He did not allow his achievements to turn him into a prideful, impatient, overbearing man. He was “mighty in words and deeds,” and his leadership of the unruly children of Israel in the wilderness revealed the organization and discipline that came from military training.

We Must Discipline Ourselves to Be Useful to God and Our Fellow Man

“Moses points out the pathway to that service. Rather than delight in himself and his distinctions, he concerned himself with the difficulties of others (Acts 7:23). Unselfish interest in the welfare of others makes us unconcerned about any natural gifts and graces we may have. We forget ourselves in helping others; and others are then conscious, not of our person and position, but rather of the Christ who dwells in our hearts” (Erdman, p. 88).

“Choosing to suffer affliction for others becomes a genuine delight to us” (Heb. 11:25). “We identify ourselves with a Cause that is humanly unpopular, but which has the approval of Heaven. We renounce our rights in order to be on the right side; and a title to which we are entitled (as “the son of Pharaoh’s daughter belonged to Moses) becomes a mere trifle, if only we be known as “the sons of God. We depend not upon our knowledge nor ability; rather we also ‘endure as seeing him who is invisible.’ (Heb. 11:27)

“There is satisfaction in serving the Lord Jesus; sweetness in suffering for His Name; blessing in bearing His reproach; pleasure in becoming a pilgrim; delight in doing his bidding…. To have every natural delight… is to need the discipline of delight, that every gift be acknowledged as from the Giver, that every talent become a sacred trust, that every honor become a humbling of heart  before Him, in order that He have all the Glory. Then, like Moses of old, with lowly heart and veiled face, we shall walk where He leads…. Then comes to pass the word, ‘Delight thyself also in the Lord, and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart’ (Ps. 37:4) (Erdman, p.89).   

II. Desire

“For even Christ pleased not himself” (Romans 15:3)

What is Desire?

Dictionary.com defines it as, “a longing or craving, as for something that brings satisfaction or enjoyment; an expressed wish; request” The Encyclopedia of the Bible says, “There are over nine different Heb. words which can be tr. into Eng. as ‘desire’ as well as about the same number of Gr. words…. Some of the words which are used are אַוָּה, H205, חֶמְדָּה, H2775, חֵ֫פֶץ, H2914, חֵ֫שֶׁק, H3139, מַחְמָד, H4718, מִשְׁאָלָה, H5399, נֶ֫פֶשׁ, H5883, רָצﯴן, H8356, תַּאֲוָה֒, H9294, תְּשׁוּקָה, H9592; θέλειν; θέλημα, G2525; θεμησις; ἐπιθυμία, G2123; αἰτέω, G160; ἐρωτἀω. Practically the whole spectrum of underlying psychological meanings are covered by the wide range of the above Heb. and Gr. words. This clearly shows how important a characteristic it is esp. as far as Scripture is concerned.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/encyclopedia-of-the-bible/Desire)

Why is Desire a Life Discipline that We Should Develop?

As Erdman examines the Discipline of Desire, he asks, “as a Christian, what criteria of Christian conduct should be mine?” He rightly concludes that the Scriptures distinguish between various types of conduct. 1) Some matters are clearly required and 2) other matters are clearly prohibited, i.e. things that we must avoid. Then there is a third category, he says, “In between, there is a wide area of border-line cases; matters intrinsically innocent in themselves, but good or evil according to principles found in the Word of God. For those border-line cases the Scriptures give us basic principles of conduct, rather than precepts (Rom. 12-14; 1Cor. 8, and elsewhere); and we should catch the spirit as well as the letter of the Word to apply to our conduct” (Erdman, p. 102)

Erdman then proceeds to outline the following principles as “criteria of Christian conduct”:

1. There should be no conformity to the world (Rom. 12:1, 2; 1Jn. 2:15-17).

Erdman quotes from John Wesley to give a “working definition” of the world, “Whatever cools my affection toward Christ is the world.” Have you ever thought about it in those terms? What cools your affection towards Christ? What causes your desire to be for other things so that you don’t “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable” (Phil. 4:8, NLT)?

2. There should be no condemnatory attitude on our part (Rom. 14:1-3, 14-21).

In matters of opinion we definitely should show open-mindedness and appreciation for the opinion of others. An attitude that shows disrespect for a fellow human being is not of God. Do your desires cause you to run rough-shod over the opinions of others or do you have the humble attitude expressed by Paul, “14 I know and am convinced on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong. 15 And if another believer is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it. Don’t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died. 16 Then you will not be criticized for doing something you believe is good. 17 For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. 19 So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up. 20 Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, all foods are acceptable, but it is wrong to eat something if it makes another person stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble” Rom 14:14-21, NLT).

3. We are to have our own convictions, based upon the Word of God (Rom. 14:1-9).

As Paul discusses the principles he lays out for the Corinthians, he makes application to two issues that were problems in his day. The first was eating of meats offered to idols and the second was observing of certain days. Please consider what one writer has said about these issues of the first century, “Under Judaism certain meats were forbidden (Lev. 11:) These were legal restrictions, not due to the nature of the animal (Gen. 9:1-4). But Christ fulfilled the typology of Judaism, and these restrictions were removed (Acts 10:10-16; 1Tim. 4:4. Again, meat that had been offer unto idols was sold in the markets, and was per se (of itself) unrestricted (1Cor. 8:1-8). To those with understanding, there was no wrong done in eating these meats. Under Judaism certain days were declared ‘holy’ (Lev. 23 :).These days were ‘set apart’ for Jews, and given significance by God’s decree, not for anything inherent in the day itself. They were a ‘shadow’… but the body is of Christ’ (Col. 2:16-17). The shadow had fulfilled its purpose with the coming of the New Covenant; hence, ‘day observance,’ per se, had lost its significance.” (Reading Romans, “When Saints Differ on Nonessentials,” Robert F. Turner, p.101)

In light of this, Paul emphasizes, “In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable” (Rom. 14:5). “i.e., act with conviction, do whatever he does because he believes this is to the glory and service of God” (Turner, p. 102).

4. We are to be considerate one of another (Rom. 14:10-13).

“13 So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall (Rom. 14:13, NLT). I like Warren Wiersbe’s comments on this passage. He says, “Note the possible ways we can affect each other. We can cause others to stumble, grieve other or even destroy others. Paul was speaking of the way the strong Christian affected the weak Christian… The strong Christian has spiritual knowledge, but if he does not practice love, his knowledge will hurt the weak Christian. Knowledge must be balanced by love. Often little children are afraid of the dark and think there is something hiding in the closet, Of course, Mother knows that the child is safe; but her knowledge alone cannot assure or comfort the child. You can never argue a child into losing fear. When the mother sits at the bedside, talks lovingly to the child, and assures him that everything is secure, then the child can go to sleep without fear. Knowledge plus love helps the weak person grow strong” (Be Right, Warren Wiersbe, pp. 157-158).

5. We should be consistent in our practice (Rom. 14:14-17).

“Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil” (Rom. 14:16, NASB). Wiersbe said it well, “Not the externals, but the eternals must be first in our lives; righteousness, peace, and joy. Where do they come from? The Holy Spirit of God at work in our lives (see Rom. 5:1-2)” (Ibid)

Erdman gives an example from the life of Rodney “Gipsy” Smith who was a British evangelist who conducted evangelistic campaigns in the United States and Great Britain for over 70 years. He was an early member of The Salvation Army and a contemporary of Fanny Crosby and acquaintance of G. Campbell Morgan and H. A. Ironside” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodney_%22Gipsy%22_Smith). He says, “More than once I heard the late Gypsy Smith relate the story of his father’s conversion. He heard the message of salvation, and with penitence received the Saviour as his own. That evening he returned to his motherless children in the gypsy wagon, and related to them all he knew of the Saviour and of the Scriptures. Then he prayed with them, setting up a family altar the first night of his new life in Christ. The following morning he repeated the whole matter again. Then he went back to town, and took with him the dearest treasure of a gypsy’s heart, his violin. On returning home that night he was without it, for he had sold it. He had sufficient spiritual insight, the first day of salvation, to realize that the old association of drinking and dancing places, where he had used his violin, would be inconsistent with his stand for Christ, and detrimental to his own conscience. We are glad for those whose background allows them to play the violin for God’s glory; but whatever is inconsistent to us and to others must be abandoned” (Erdman, p. 105).

6. Our conduct should be constructive (Rom. 14:18-19)

“Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another” (Rom. 14:19). “Do my words, actions, standards, make for peace, to establish others in the truth of the gospel; or do I live to myself, unconcerned about the blessing promised to the peacemakers (Mt. 5:9) or about building strong Christian character and conviction in those that are as yet weaker in the faith?” (Erdman, p. 106).

7. We should be careful of conscience in what we allow in Christian conduct (Rom. 14:20-23).

“Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right” (Rom. 14:22, NLT). “We have to live with our own conscience to be under self-condemnation as well as under the conviction of the Spirit when our deeds are doubtful to ourselves; and on the other hand, we can have the happiness of a good conscience. We are to bear in mind also, however, the conscience of others in that which we allow. ‘But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol? So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ.’ (1Cor. 8:9-12, NLT).  Strong and searching words, that should give us a tender and thoughtful conscience, with conviction that ‘Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.’ (v.13, KJV). High standard? Yes, high, but also holy and helpful; with the conscience of a weaker Christian as my criterion” (Erdman, pp. 107-108).

8. Our conduct should be Christ-like (Rom. 15:1-7).

“We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord. For even Christ didn’t live to please himself” (Rom. 15:2-3, NLT). “The final criterion is the capstone of them all… Is the welfare and well-being of others a first consideration with us, as it was with Him? Can we deny ourselves that we might please others (v.1)? Is any sacrifice on our part in the least commensurate with His sacrifice for us? He has been patient with us, and desires that we be ‘likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus’ (v 5.). Do our words and our deeds, our attitudes and our acts, show forth Christ to others, especially to the weak in the faith? Are we Christ-like in our concern for them?”

Conclusion

Two more Disciplines of Life, I suggest as worthy of development in the life of the Christian: Delight and Desire. Delight is a way of life that does not despise others, thinking that they get all the good things in life while we do not. It is an attitude that says, “I am appreciative for what I have and I will not waste my time trying to keep score of what I have compared to others. The Discipline of Desire will cause me to apply the principles of Christian conduct to my actions, in the light of another’s conscience.

(Source: The Disciplines of Life, V. Raymond Edmond, pp. 85-89, 101-111)

The Disciplines of Life – Lesson #8: Defamation and Defense

This is the eighth lesson in our series, The Disciplines of Life. We have studied: Solitude; Discipleship; Dependability & Determination; Discernment, Decision & Duty; Declining Days, Deformity, & Disability; and Danger, Daring and Darkness thus far. There are many disciplines that should be evident in the life of the Christian. In this lesson we want to look at the Disciplines of Defamation and Defense.

As we have been emphasizing in this series, these are called “disciplines” because they are not acquired without deliberate effort. Discipline is “Training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 360). We have been using, as an anchor for this series, a book by V. Raymond Edman published in 1948 titled The Disciplines of Life. Although Mr. Edman was associated with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, many of the things he has written resonate with me. Mr. Edman appears to have had a love for alliteration, as all thirty-0ne of the the disciplines he wrote about begin with the letter “D.” Another source that I have used for this series that is not so “contrived” is the Twelve Spiritual Disciplines edited by Warren Berkley and Jon Quin and published by Expository Files.

Defamation (2nd Samuel 16:5-14)

Defamation is defined as “the act of defaming; false or unjustified injury of the good reputation of another, as by slander or libel; calumny” (www.dictionary.com).

Edman reminds us of the admonition of Scripture, “For God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment. Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps” (1st Pet. 2:19-23, NLT). He then says, “This is a deep discipline of the soul, this evidence of our true sonship with God, as described by our Lord Jesus Christ… ”But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike” (Mt. 5:44-45, NLT).

David’s conduct before Shimei excellently illustrates the discipline endured by those who are defamed.

The situation: David is old; he’s been driven from his capital, caused by his rebellious son Absalom. Scripture describes Shimei’s stinging insults and David’s response (2nd Samuel 16:5-14, NLT).

Shimei said, “Get out of here, you murderer, you scoundrel! The Lord is paying you back for all the bloodshed in Saul’s clan. You stole his throne, and now the Lord has given it to your son Absalom. At last you will taste some of your own medicine, for you are a murderer!”

David’s response, “My own son is trying to kill me. Doesn’t this relative of Saul have even more reason to do so? Leave him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to do it. And perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wronged and will bless me because of these curses today.”

This is an often repeated theme in David’s Psalms:

“Help, O Lord, for the godly are fast disappearing! The faithful have vanished from the earth! Neighbors lie to each other, speaking with flattering lips and deceitful hearts…. The Lord replies, “I have seen violence done to the helpless, and I have heard the groans of the poor. Now I will rise up to rescue them, as they have longed for me to do” (12:1, 2, 5, NLT).

“Malicious witnesses testify against me. They accuse me of crimes I know nothing about. They repay me evil for good. I am sick with despair. Yet when they were ill, I grieved for them. I denied myself by fasting for them, but my prayers returned unanswered. I was sad, as though they were my friends or family,    as if I were grieving for my own mother. But they are glad now that I am in trouble; they gleefully join together against me. I am attacked by people I don’t even know; they slander me constantly” (35:11-15, NLT).

“I said to myself, “I will watch what I do and not sin in what I say. I will hold my tongue when the ungodly are around me” (39:1, NLT).

“I have seen wicked and ruthless people flourishing like a tree in its native soil. But when I looked again, they were gone! Though I searched for them, I could not find them!” (37:35-36, NLT)

“How great is the goodness you have stored up for those who fear you. You lavish it on those who come to you for protection, blessing them before the watching world. You hide them in the shelter of your presence, safe from those who conspire against them. You shelter them in your presence, far from accusing tongues. Praise the Lord, for he has shown me the wonders of his unfailing love. He kept me safe when my city was under attack” (31:19-21, NLT)

“O Lord, I have so many enemies; so many are against me. So many are saying, “God will never rescue him!” But you, O Lord, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high. I cried out to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy mountain” (3:1-4, NLT).

Others demonstrated this discipline as well – the soft answer “that turns away wrath” (Prov. 15:1)

Moses was the object of criticism, not only from the Israelites in General, but even from his own brother and sister. “While they were at Hazeroth, Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses because he had married a Cushite woman. They said, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t he spoken through us, too?” But the Lord heard them. (Now Moses was very humble—more humble than any other person on earth.)” (Num. 12: 1-3). “One day Korah son of Izhar, a descendant of Kohath son of Levi, conspired with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth, from the tribe of Reuben. They incited a rebellion against Moses, along with 250 other leaders of the community, all prominent members of the assembly. They united against Moses and Aaron and said, “You have gone too far! The whole community of Israel has been set apart by the Lord, and he is with all of us. What right do you have to act as though you are greater than the rest of the Lord’s people?” Num 16:1-3, NLT)

The humble response of Moses is described, “When Moses heard what they were saying, he fell face down on the ground. 5 Then he said to Korah and his followers, “Tomorrow morning the Lord will show us who belongs to him and who is holy. The Lord will allow only those whom he selects to enter his own presence. Korah, you and all your followers must prepare your incense burners. Light fires in them tomorrow, and burn incense before the Lord. Then we will see whom the Lord chooses as his holy one. You Levites are the ones who have gone too far!” (Num. 16:4-7, NLT).

Jesus was above all men spoken against falsely. In return for the miracles and healings He performed, He was repaid with the anger and envy of political leaders who sought to kill Him. One such example is that is recorded says,  “Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand. Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus’ enemies watched him closely. If he healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the deformed hand, “Come and stand in front of everyone.” Then he turned to his critics and asked, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer him. He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts. Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored! At once the Pharisees went away and met with the supporters of Herod to plot how to kill Jesus. (Mk. 3:1-6, NLT)

Mark also records, “One time Jesus entered a house, and the crowds began to gather again. Soon he and his disciples couldn’t even find time to eat. When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. “He’s out of his mind,” they said. But the teachers of religious law who had arrived from Jerusalem said, “He’s possessed by Satan, the prince of demons. That’s where he gets the power to cast out demons.” Jesus called them over and responded with an illustration. “How can Satan cast out Satan?” he asked. “A kingdom divided by civil war will collapse. Similarly, a family splintered by feuding will fall apart. And if Satan is divided and fights against himself, how can he stand? He would never survive. Let me illustrate this further. Who is powerful enough to enter the house of a strong man and plunder his goods? Only someone even stronger—someone who could tie him up and then plunder his house. “I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. This is a sin with eternal consequences.” He told them this because they were saying, “He’s possessed by an evil spirit.” (Mark 3:20-30, NLT).

Many other examples could be cited (Mk. 6:3; 14:45, 61; 15:3, 5; Isa. 42:2, 3; 53:7; Mt. 5:11-12) but suffice it to say that Jesus was without question the greatest sufferer and the most prolific example of the discipline of Defamation.

Paul described some of the things that he faced, “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed” (2Cor. 4:8-9). When we arrived in Macedonia, there was no rest for us. We faced conflict from every direction, with battles on the outside and fear on the inside” (2Cor. 7:5).

“If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap    burning coals of shame on their heads.”Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good” (Rom. 12:7-21).

Defense (1Sam. 22:8)

“And there is none of you that is sorry for me.” “These are the words of a king! Who would have thought it could be so? A sovereign stooping to self-pity, a monarch making himself miserable and mean, a crown that cries like a spoiled child! But that is what the story tells, with penetrating insight and illumination into the character of Saul, first king of Israel” (Edman, p. 63).

Selfishness and self-pity were not conspicuous in Saul’s character at the outset his royal career, but he would soon develop a character dominated by those attributes.

At the outset of his royal career he seemed to have commendable characteristics: He came from a good family (1Sam. 9:1). He was a dutiful son (1Sam. 9:2). He was tall, handsome, competent, cooperative, and had qualifications to be over God’s people (1Sam. 9:16). He was humble and unassuming (1Sam. 10:14-16). He shrunk back from being king (1Sam. 10:22). He held his peace when criticized (1Sam. 10:26).

When time came “to reveal his qualities of leadership, he was not inadequate” (1Sam. 11:4-11). He showed that he could be magnanimous; for when his soldiers wanted to cut off his erstwhile critics, Saul could say with generosity, “There shall not be a man be put to death this day… (1Sam. 11:13)

But flaws began to appear in his personality & character: He seemed to lack a sense of the spiritual despite his home training. He became self-willed, impulsive, and imperious (“domineering in a haughty manner”-dictionary.com). He presumed the prerogatives of the priest by offering  the sacrifice (1Sam. 13:13-14)

He “seemed to lack a sense of fitness in things human as well as divine” (Erdman, p.65). He denied his men food when a great victory was in the making (1Sm. 13:15-23; 14:24). Even his son Jonathan said he “troubled the land” (1Sam. 14:29-30).

The test came years later when he was to destroy the Amalekites (1Sam. 15:1-3) but his obedience was only partial (1Sam. 15:9). The Lord was sorry he had set up Saul to be king (1Sam. 15:11). When confronted, he made excuses (1Sam. 15:20, 21) as he had done earlier (1Sam. 13:11-12).

Erdman says about this discipline:

“This is the discipline of defense. As long as a man is on the aggressive, alert to his liabilities and limitations, active in his service for God and man, he can be courageous, generous, altruistic, large-spirited; but when he allows himself to get on the defensive: defending his position, policies, procedure, personality, program, then he tends to become timid, selfish, self-centered and small. He has lost the magnanimity that can minimize insults and injuries. He forgets the wholesomeness and soul-health necessary for his own soul. As indicated in a prayer of Phillips Brooks, ‘Let me not lose faith in my fellow men. Keep me sweet and sound of heart, in spite of ingratitude, treachery or meanness. Preserve me from minding little stings or giving them.’

“Self-centeredness makes a man soft, sensitive, selfish. Self-pity makes him pitiable, a picture of pathos when he should be a power for good. Self-importance makes him unimpressive, important in his own eyes but impossible to others. Conceit makes him contemptible. Bitterness of spirit over the success of others makes him blind to his own shortcomings. Envy makes him unenviable. Petulance makes him picayunish. Self-pampering makes him sarcastic. Self-indulgence makes him indolent. Self-defense destroys his self-respect, and makes him less a man.”

“This I say is the discipline of defense. To whimper is to be a weakling to complain is to be a coward; to blame others is to be a baby; to pity self is to be pitiful; to yell is to be ‘yellow,’ which term of contempt contains the whole concept of the unworthy and worthless.”

“The discipline of defense demands that we destroy self-centeredness, self-pity, self-importance, self-indulgence, self-defense of any kind. If others are honored, congratulate them (1Cor 12:26); if you are neglected, forget it. If the job is too big for you, admit it to yourself and to others and step aside graciously; you will be a bigger and better man for it. If others can do the job better than you, let them do it with your ‘God bless you!’ Let no dog-in-the-manger attitude make you snappy, showing teeth and temper rather than kindness and courtesy; in other words, be a Christian rather than a cur!”

“The discipline of defense is to ‘to be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love in honor preferring one another … not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith … (to) bless them which persecute you; (to) bless and curse not’ (Rom. 12:10,3,14).” It is further defined and described in Phil. 2:3,14,15. “It is to do your duty and to do good unto others.”

“To defend yourself is to descend to the despicable, the degrading, the destructive; to deny yourself is to ascend to the worth-while, the wholesome and the helpful” (Erdman, pp.66-68).  

Conclusion:

This article has dealt with a positive discipline that we should seek to develop and a negative that we should be on guard against.

The positive, Defamation, that is doing good and living for God, no matter the consequences that may come to you as a result, is a discipline to be developed.

The negative, Defense that is allowing yourself to get on the defensive: defending your position, policies, procedure, personality, program, tending to become selfish, self-centered and small. You have lost the magnanimity that can minimize insults and injuries. This is a discipline that would cause us to guard against the invasion of flaws of personality and character like those that developed in Saul.

(Source: The Disciplines of Life, V. Raymond Edmond, pp. 55-70)

The Disciplines of Life – Lesson #7: Danger, Daring, and Darkness


This is the seventh lesson in our series, The Disciplines of Life. We have studied: Solitude; Discipleship; Dependability & Determination; Discernment, Decision & Duty; and Declining Days, Deformity, & Disability thus far.

There are many disciplines that should be evident in the life of the Christian. In this lesson we want to look at the Disciplines of Danger, Daring, and Darkness. As we have been emphasizing in this series, these are called “disciplines” because they are not acquired without deliberate effort. Discipline is “Training that corrects molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 360).

Danger (Neh. 6:1-19)

Life is full of dangers: physical, social and spiritual. Nehemiah’s experience is illustrative of the discipline of danger. As we read the 6th chapter of the book of Nehemiah, we see described the dangers he faced in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.

First, there was the Danger of Intrigue (vv. 1-4).  The enemy sent word to Nehemiah that they would like to meet with him. Nehemiah could only speculate as to the purpose of the meeting, but the text says that “they were planning to harm me” and therefore sent word to them, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.” They repeated the request four more times.

Second, there was the Danger of Innuendo (vv. 6-9). They sought to ascribe to him false motives. They said, “It is reported among the nations, and Gashmu says, that you and the Jews are planning to rebel; therefore you are rebuilding the wall. And you are to be their king, according to these reports. You have also appointed prophets to proclaim in Jerusalem concerning you, a king is in Judah!” Nehemiah’s response was that they were inventing these things in their own minds.

Third, there was the Danger of Intimidation (vv. 10-14). Shemaiah told Nehemiah that, ““Let us meet together inside the Temple of God and bolt the doors shut. Your enemies are coming to kill you tonight.” Nehemiah replied to him, “Should someone in my position run from danger? Should someone in my position enter the Temple to save his life? No, I won’t do it!” Nehemiah realized that God had not spoken to him at all, but rather that Shemaiah had been hired by Tobiah and Sanballat,  hoping to intimidate him and make him sin so that they could accuse and discredit him.

Finally, there was the Danger of Insinuation (vv. 17, 19). The text says, “During those fifty-two days, many letters went back and forth between Tobiah and the nobles of Judah…. They kept telling me about Tobiah’s good deeds, and then they told him everything I said. And Tobiah kept sending threatening letters to intimidate me.”  The servant of God may be assaulted by letters sent by others in an attempt to destroy his reputation. Sticking to his duty, in the midst of such a barrage of letters, may very well be the deepest of trials for this servant of God.

The application for us as Christians today is that we may be tempted to turn from our tasks to address the dangers of intrigue, innuendo, intimidation, or insinuation but our safety is in doing our duty (2:3),  putting our trust in God (6:9), standing steadfast and immovable (6:11), and serving in silence. The result for us will be as it was with Nehemiah, “…the wall was finished—just fifty-two days after we had begun. When our enemies and the surrounding nations heard about it, they were frightened and humiliated. They realized this work had been done with the help of our God” (6:15-16). “Danger feared is folly, danger faced is freedom” (Erdman, p.23)

Daring (Joshua 1:6-7)

Joshua illustrates wonderfully the Discipline of Daring. Scripture tells us that after the death of Moses the Lord spoke to Joshua, his assistant and told him “the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them. I promise you what I promised Moses: ‘Wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you— from the Negev wilderness in the south to the Lebanon mountains in the north, from the Euphrates River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, including all the land of the Hittites.’ No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you” (Joshua 1:2-5)

There is no indication in Scripture that Joshua hesitated at all, but rather he promptly began giving instructions to his officers, “Go through the camp and tell the people to get their provisions ready. In three days you will cross the Jordan River and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Joshua 1:10-11)

It certainly would not have been unreasonable to expect that he would have exercised the Discipline of Deliberation – “To be sure, there is the discipline of deliberation, wherein one ponders the pathway he should take and restudies the resources he will need for any given enterprise; but there is also the discipline of daring, wherein one decided to do his duty despite every difficult and danger” (Erdman, p.25).

But to deliberate and delay unduly, when God is for us and leading us, is foolish. “Daring can mean the difference between defeat by default and the delight of duty well done” (Ibid). And so God urged him on, ““Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do” (Joshua 1:6-7).

We need that same exhortation today, “Be Strong & Very Courageous!” There are giants as there were then. Joshua had seen them (Num. 13) but he did not concur with the majority report (Num. 13:33; 14:8-9).

Consider these insightful comments by Erdman

  • “Daring sees God, not the giants, the Savior, not the cities walled up to heaven; the promises, not the impossibilities; the authority of God, not the Anakim” (Erdman, p.26). Their minority report said “Let’s go up at once and possess it … (Num. 13:33).
  • Daring often stands alone or in a hopeless minority; and learns therein one of the primary lessons of patience that lead to triumph; dread not the majority that outvotes you nor the mob that would stone you” (Num. 14:10)(Erdman, p.27). Often “…our real foes are not the fierce sons of Anak, but rather are the furtive Achans within our own camp” (Joshua 7) (Erdman, p. 27).
  • There is the Jordan, as well as the giants to hinder us as it did Joshua. The giants may represent spiritual and psychological foes that face us when we would follow God, the Jordan may well represent physical factors that render fortuitous or even foolish any thought of following Him further … There are physical factors that make impossible our obedience to the know will of God…. God had told Joshua to go over this Jordan just as it was. There is a very fine line of differentiation between fanaticism of self-will and the faith of obedience to God’s will; and happy the heart that learns that difference” (Erdman, pp. 28-29).
  • While caution considers and deliberation delays, daring obeys the explicit command of the Lord…. This is a discipline of daring: to be strong when the seeming impossibility stares one in the face; to be very courageous when obedience commands that we put our feet on the brim of certain disaster” (Erdman, pp. 29-30)
  • A life of sight calculates, considers, cautions, and cringes. Whereas a life of faith follows God implicitly” (2Cor. 1:9-10; 4:8) (Erdman, p. 30).
  • “To walk by faith is to face an unending succession of giants, Jordans, and Jerichos and to dare to conquer each one in turn” (Erdman, p. 30).

When we are considering how we should move forward, we must recognize the God’s methods may not be ours. In fact, usually they are not. Consider the methods God chose at Jericho (Josh. 6:16, 20), at Ai (Josh. 8:18, 26) and centuries later with King Jehoshaphat (2nd Chron. 20:22).

“This is the discipline of daring; to discern one’s duty, to do God’s bidding, to delight in His presence, to depend upon His promise, to discover His power as we obey His word, ‘Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do … that thou mayest prosper withersoever thou goest …’ (Josh. 1:7-9)” (Erdman, p. 31).

Darkness (Isa 50:10)

Finally let’s consider the Discipline of Darkness. To illustrate this discipline, we will look at the statement found in Isaiah 50: 10, “Who among you fears the Lord and obeys his servant? If you are walking in darkness, without a ray of light, trust in the Lord and rely on your God.” The child of God has benefit of wisdom from God’s word, and therefore need not walk in darkness. This truth is confirmed in many New Testament passages, including Col. 3:19; Eph. 5:17; Rom. 12:1-2; Acts 23:11.

But we are also told that the trial of our faith is inevitable (1Pet. 1:7). “This trial of faith provides the discipline of darkness for God’s child, that he may learn to trust his Father in the shadows as well as in the sunshine” (Erdman, p. 34)

Consider several Bible Examples. First consider Joseph. Childhood dreams taught him he would be preeminent among his brothers but his pathway led through hatred, envy, & rejection. His experience in Potiphar’s house was very much a journey through darkness as was his experience in prison. But Joseph was faithful to the mission God called him and God blessed him (Gen. 50:20).

Secondly, consider the example of Jeremiah. He was misunderstood by others, but assured by God (Jer. 15:11, 20). He went deeper into distress and difficulty. But God again assured him (Jer. 39:17, 18).

Third, consider John the Baptist. He was a burning and shining light (Jn. 5:35). But the hatred of the Herodians led him to the dungeon and death. 

Finally, consider Job. There was none like him in all the earth (Job 1:1-8; 2:3). Suddenly he was plunged into dismay, desolation, disease, and despair. Have you ever thought about the “dark night of the soul” reflected in Job’s statements in Job 3:23; 6:8-9; 9:30-31; and 13:24-25?

The darkness brings to us haunting shadows that insinuate ‘God has forgotten to be gracious,’ ‘God concerns not himself with you,’ ‘God’s will would not bring you into the shadow,’ ‘God has forsaken you because you have disobeyed Him,’ and a thousand similar subtle snares of Satan. On the contrary, the discipline of darkness can show us the wonderful truth of Isa. 50:10 …Our temptation is to give up all hope in the dark or else to kindle a fire of our own (Isa. 50:11) which will prove to be loss and sorrow. Rather we find heart and mind are stayed upon the Lord, that, ‘unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness; he is gracious and full of compassion and righteous’ (Psa. 112:4)” (Erdman, p. 37)

Conclusion

Danger, Daring, and Darkness. Those are disciplines that we may very well be called upon to engage in our lives as Christians. Are you prepared to face what life throws at you? If you “trust in the name of the Lord and rely on your God” you should be! If not, make it right today!

Thanks for reading dear friend.

-Randy

(Source: The Disciplines of Life, V. Raymond Edmond, pp. 17-38)

The Disciplines of Life – Lesson #6: Serving

As we continue our series on The Disciplines of Life, I would suggest to you that servanthood is one of those character traits that require “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.” As humans driven to serve self, serving others is not something that we do naturally.

 

In April of 2005 I gave a Toastmasters speech which I entitled “Do You Think Like a Servant?” In that speech, I said, “Mr. Toastmaster, fellow members and honored guests, in a previous speech, I challenged you to consider whether you have the HEART of a champion.  Today I want to challenge you to consider whether you have the MIND of a servant.  My question for you today is, ‘Do you think like a servant?’” The following is material that I presented in that speech.

 

The great Master Teacher said, “Whoever wants to be great must become a servant” (Mk. 10:43 from The Message bible).  Author Rick Warren suggests, “The world defines greatness in terms of power, possessions, prestige, and position….  God determines your greatness by how many people you serve, not how many people serve you….  Thousands of books have been written on leadership, but few on servanthood….  Anyone can be a servant.  All it requires is character.” (The Purpose Driven-Life, pp 257-258)

 

But Consider that …

 

Servants think more about others than about themselves.  When we stop focusing on our own needs, we become aware of the needs around us.  This can be very challenging in a culture that encourages us to insist on our RIGHTS.  Also, if we are not careful, our service can become self-serving-to get others to like us, to be admired, or to achieve our own goals.  I am by nature selfish so thinking like a servant requires me to understand that self-denial is the core of servanthood.  There are daily opportunities for each of us to be servants.  These opportunities require us to make the choice between meeting my needs or the needs of others.  Servants keep a low profile – not promoting or calling attention to themselves.  “There are more than 750 ‘Halls of Fame’ in America and more than 450 ‘Who’s Who’ publications, but you won’t find many real servants in these places.” (Warren, p 263)

 

A perfect example of this attitude is described by Peggy Noonan, in her biography of Ronald Reagan, which she titled, When Character Was King.  (I love that title.) She describes a scene in the President’s hospital room after an assassin’s attempt on his life.  John Hinckley’s attempt had not been fatal, but the bullet wound was serious enough to hospitalize Mr. Reagan. The still weakened President had spilled some water and was on his hands and knees cleaning up after himself so that a nurse wouldn’t have to.  He did not want to bother the nurse with the problem he caused. Here was the most powerful, influential man in the free world down on his hands and knees cleaning up.  He thought more about others than about himself.  (When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan by Peggy Noonan)

 

Secondly, Servants think like stewards, not owners.  A steward is a servant entrusted to manage an estate.  A young man in the small nation of Israel in is an example.  His name was Joseph and he was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers.  This condition of slavery led him to Egypt where he first served as an overseer in Potiphar’s house (Gen. 39:1-20).  In this role, Potiphar gave him “complete administrative responsibility over everything he owned. With Joseph there, he didn’t have a worry in the world, except to decide what he wanted to eat.” (New Living Translation of 39:6.)  As a steward who was faithful to Potiphar and to God, he resisted the advances of Potiphar’s wife.  When he spurns her advances, she spitefully accuses him and causes him imprisonment.

 

In Pharaoh’s Prison Joseph again demonstrated the thinking of a steward (Gen 39:21-41:36) and is placed in charge of the other prisoners and eventually finds himself in the role of interpreter of the dreams of Pharaoh.  Throughout, Joseph maintained his integrity and his servant’s mindset.

 

And finally, as a prince in Egypt Joseph continues to think as a steward (Gen 41:38-50). He is wise in his service to Pharaoh, as his wisdom is manifested in his administration showing foresight in years of plenty and shrewdness in years of famine.  He is merciful in his treatment of his brothers who he forgave for selling him into slavery.  He continued to believe in the providence of God: that God could make good things come out of evil intentions and that God would keep his promises made to His people.  Joseph was indeed a servant, a man of Character!

 

Finally, Servants think about THEIR work, not what others are doing.  They don’t compare, criticize, or compete with other servants/ministries.  There is no place for petty jealousies between servants.  My two boys, Ryan and Tyler have not yet learned how to think like servants.  They are very much in competition – comparing their own achievement against that of their brother.  We excuse this in children but adults also can be guilty.  When Martha complained about Mary not helping with the work, she lost her servant’s heart.

 

Sprint gives us abundant opportunities to serve and to develop our ability to think like a servant.  Last week was National Volunteer Week when nominations were solicited for those who “Inspire by Example” reflecting the power volunteers have to inspire the people they help, as well as, to inspire others to serve.”  We have Community Relations Teams.  Sprint also encourages its employees to serve on a non-profit board of directors and towards that end is offering two University of Excellence Courses, “101-Board Training” and “102-Strategic Board Leadership.”

 

I like what Chuck Swindoll says in his book, Improving Your Serve.  He says, “What I’ve learned: To keep my eyes open for opportunities, my wallet open for giving, my time open for flexibility, my heart open for availability, and my ears open for listening — even the unspoken needs.”

 

Are you usually more concerned about being served or finding ways to serve others?  If you would have the MIND of a servant, you will think more about others than about yourself, you will think like a steward rather than an owner and you will think about YOUR work not about what others are doing.

 

Thanks for reading.

Randy

The Disciplines of Life: Declining Days, Deformity, and Disability

This is the fifth lesson in our series, The Disciplines of Life. We have noticed: Solitude, Discipleship, Dependability, Determination, Discernment, Decision and Duty thus far.  As we have said, there are many disciplines that should be evident in the life of the Christian. In this lesson we want to look at the disciplines of Declining Days, Deformity, and Disability. As we have been emphasizing in this series, these are called “disciplines” because they are not acquired without deliberate effort. Discipline is “Training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 360). Please consider …

 

Declining Days (1Samuel 8)

1Samuel 8 tell us that when Samuel was old that he appointed his sons judges over Israel but they did not walk in his ways. Instead they turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted justice. As a result the elders of Israel got together and confronted Samuel. They said to him, “Look, you’re an old man, and your sons aren’t following in your footsteps. Here’s what we want you to do: Appoint a king to rule us, just like everybody else” (paraphrasing). As we think about Samuel’s situation we can think of several difficulties that can beset us as we get older. These difficulties require a disciplined mind to approach them with the proper attitude.

Difficulty #1: graciously granting responsibilities to younger people without feeling that you are no longer wanted or needed

In the local congregation, we know that we need to begin transitioning responsibilities to the younger folks. If the local church is to survive, we need to recognize that our young people are the church of the future, but

Difficulty #2: seeing your children no longer walking in the way of the Lord

How embarrassing it must have been for Samuel that his very sons whom he had appointed to positions of responsibility and leadership were now involved in dishonest gain, bribery and perverted justice. It can be very discouraging to Christian parents when their children no longer walk with God when they become of age. It causes them to question where they went wrong in carrying out the instruction to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. As discouraging as it is, parents cannot allow their own faith to be wrecked. They must continue to walk faithfully and to pray that their children might return to the Lord as well. Proverbs describes both the sorrow of the parent of the child who is disobedient and the joy of the parent of the child who is obedient (Proverbs 13:1; 23:24-250.

Difficulty #3: adaptation to demands of a new day

Samuel had succeeded Eli as judge in Israel. He followed in a long line of judges with an established routine of governing. But now the nation was demanding a new form of government and a new ruler. This left Samuel feeling, not only that he was losing his job, but also that they were rejected him as a person. Of course the Lord told him, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them” (v. 7).

So it can be with us today. Declining days may bring unemployment or forced retirement. A professional who has given many years to the profession, that he chose early in his career, may find that employment in that field is not possible, for whatever reason. The Christian must have the discipline to reject the despondency and despair that could come upon him. Reacting positively to the demands of a new day, he turns to a second career or accepts the reality of retirement and turns his attention to spiritual pursuits.

Difficulty #4: seeing the next generation turn from “the old paths”

Like Samuel, a Christian can give earnest, even tearful admonition (8:11-18; 12:6-17) to the oncoming generation. He can try to teach about the issues that have faced God’s people in the past. But still some will not want to bother studying “Issues That Divide Us.”

Rather than becoming sullen in such a situation, the challenge is to maintain the sweetness and sincerity of a Samuel. His response to those who he felt was rejecting him was, ‘Yet turn not aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart … For the Lord will not forsake his people for his great name’s sake: because it hath pleased the Lord to make you his people. Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way” (12:20, 22, and 23). Christians today need to sound the same call made by Jeremiah, “Thus says the Lord: “Stand in the ways and see, And ask for the old paths, where the good way is, And walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16).

To Pray and To Teach is one of the “deepest disciplines of declining days.” Erdman makes an excellent point when he says, “In my opinion, Samuel did more for Israel in the days of retirement than in all the long years of active and conspicuous service. He prayed for all his people and their new king, in days that were darker and more difficult than any they had known under Samuel’s administration.”

It is not difficult to believe that Samuel was so busy with his administrative duties that he had not been able to give much time and effort to teaching. Now that he was no longer the leader, he could pray and he could teach. Thus began “the school of the prophets” (1Sam. 19:18-20; 2Ki. 2:15; 4:38; 6:1).

“The discipline of declining days that comes when days wane and strength subsides, when doors close and comforters depart, when others bear the heat and the burden of the day; then to grow old graciously and sweetly; to grant responsibilities to stronger, though less experienced, hands of our sons or others; to adapt oneself to the demands of a new day; and above all, to pray for others and to serve the Lord in whatever hidden ministry may be ours. This disciplines in spirit we are sweetness and strength to those who need us most” (Erdman, p. 53).

 

Deformity

George Gordon Byron (i.e. “Lord Byron”) (born January 22, 1788, London, England—died April 19, 1824, Missolonghi, Greece) was a “British Romantic poet and satirist whose poetry and personality captured the imagination of Europe…. had been born with a clubfoot and early developed an extreme sensitivity to his lameness.” (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Lord-Byron-poet).

Lord Byron’s response to his physical handicap is captured by Erdman (pp. 71-73) in a lengthy quotation from Margurite, Countess of Blessington’s, A Journal of Conversations with Lord Byron, pp. 143-144. Byron says that it was his feelings at this period that suggested the idea of a play that he wrote calling it The Deformed Transformed.

 He said, “My poor mother, and after her my school-fellows by their taunts, had led me to consider my lameness as the greatest misfortune, and I have never been able to conquer this feeling. It requires great natural goodness of disposition, as well as reflection, to conquer the corroding bitterness that deformity engenders in the mind, and which, while preying on itself, sours one toward all the world.”

David’s desire to help the sons of Jonathan (1Sam. 20:14-16; 23:18; 2Sam. 21:7) and especially Mephibosheth (2Sam. 9:3-13) is positive Bible example of how we should respond to deformity.

Another positive example are the lepers sent by God (2Kings 7) to deliver the message that the enemy had fled, and that food had become available in abundance to the starving multitudes of Samaria, as he had promised through his servant Elisha.

“The inconspicuous have their inning, the incompetent make their contribution, the unsightly serve their God and fellow men, and the handicapped help open windows in heaven! (Erdman, p.75)

John Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress presents a picture where Greatheart and his courageous companions were on their way to the City of The Great King where they met Mr. Feeble-mind. Mr. Feeble-mind was hesitant to accompany such accomplished pilgrims because he was week and feeble. “In the midst of their discussion, ‘Mr. Ready-to-halt came by with his crutches in his hands and was also going on a pilgrimage.’ To him spoke the weak Christian, ‘I was but now complaining that I had not a suitable companion, but thou art according to my wish”; To which Mr. Ready-to-halt replied with gracious spirit and offered him one of his crutches” (Erdman, p.76).

“Seeing in the shadow of blindness, singing in the sadness of sorrow, serving in the loneliness of lameness, strengthened in the grace that is sufficient; this is the discipline of deformity that makes sweet our spirit, and strengthens that of others.” (Erdman, p. 77)

Disability

Life can get us down if we focus on the negative. “So much of life seems utterly meaningless, even miserable, without rhyme or reason, right or wrong and justice, least of all. There is abundance everywhere of turmoil and trouble, tragedy and tears, inhumanity and injustice, sickness and sorrow, so that anyone without would could reason that the universe is entirely unreasonable, a miserable mess, a ghastly joke. There is so much that just ‘happens,’ no apparent plan nor purpose, only pathos, pain and perplexity, loneliness instead of love, handicaps instead of help, false hopes instead of far horizons, pain instead of pleasure, inactivity instead of activity, sobs instead of song, for walls instead of for freedoms, darkness instead of daylight, futility instead of fulfillment: these happen to all of us. This is life but not all of it” (Erdman, p. 151).

But, on the positive side … “There is the discipline of disability that brings singing for sighing, serving for sitting, gladness for gloom, assurance for ashes, melody for mourning, usefulness for uselessness, duty for dungeons.” (IBID)

Consider some Bible examples …

Joseph knew this discipline. He was the subject of the envy by elder brothers (Gen. 37). In Potiphar’s household, he was misrepresented and suffered a miscarriage of justice (Gen. 39). He was forgotten and forsaken in prison (Gen. 40).

However, brighter days came! The opening of prison doors (Gen. 41:1), service in high places (Gen. 41:43), blessed with a son (Manasseh) (Gen. 41:53) that made him forget all his toil, birth of another son (Ephraim)(Gen. 41:52) that reminded him of God’s allowing him to be fruitful in the land of his affliction, and finally, the bowing down of his brothers to him (42:6; 43:26; 44:14).

Job knew this discipline. He was happy, healthy, “a perfect and upright man” (Job 1:8). In a brief time there came loss of loved ones, wealth, and health, everything. His friends became “miserable comforters” blaming his misfortunes on his supposed sins. “…in the book of Job, God is teaching us an even dozen lessons: there can be sorrow without sin, darkness without disobedience, inequity without iniquity, mourning without merit, chaos without cause, judgment without justice. The innocent suffer because of the folly of the fathers, the greed of the grafters, the arrogance of the autocrats, the laxity of the laws, the inhumanity of the uninhibited, the treachery of the tyrants, the wickedness of war, the fatality of fortune, the godlessness of the ungodly” (p.153)

Jonah knew this discipline. Jonah’s problems came upon him because of his disobedience (1:3). As a result, he found himself in the “belly of hell” (2:2-9). Repentant, he returned to the Lord who delivered him (2:10). God calls him the second time (3:1). The discipline of Jonah was relatively brief, compared to Job’s.

The Apostle Paul knew this discipline. At Damascus’ gate he is called by Jesus (Acts 9:3-6; 26:12-20). He went from city to city preaching, suffered many things. But even after all this there was no respite (Acts 21:27-22:24; 23:23-26:32). Even so his attitude continued to be positive (Phil. 1:12). Incidents in his early ministry taught him this discipline: the plot against his life (Acts 9:22-25, the perversity of the sorcerer (13:6-12), the persecution at Antioch (13:44-49), the prison of Philippi (16:25-34). Then there was the imprisonment in Rome where he provided effective witness to the guard (Phil. 1:13), gave encouragement to believers (1:14), shed light on the deepest truth of the gospel (1:21), and was provided the opportunity to write the prison epistles.

Conclusion

Declining Days, Deformity, and Disability are disciplines that we may need to apply at various stages of our lives. With the help of God, we can respond appropriately with the discipline we have gained though focus on our Christian growth.

(Source: The Disciplines of Life by V. Raymond Erdman, pp. 45-53, 71-77, 151-157)

The Disciplines of Life: Discernment, Decision and Duty

This is the fourth article in our series, The Disciplines of Life. We have studied: Solitude, Discipleship and Dependability & Determination thus far. There are many disciplines that should be evident in the life of the Christian. In this article, we want to look at the disciplines of discernment, decision, and duty.

As we have been emphasizing in this series, these are called “disciplines” because they are not acquired without deliberate effort. Discipline is “Training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 360). Please consider …

 

Discernment

One of the disciplines of life that we must develop is that of discernment. As we go through life, we are impacted by people, places and events. We might consider those things stimuli (i.e. something that incites to action or exertion or quickens action, feeling, thought, etc.). As Christians, it is important that we exercise discernment in determining the source of those stimuli; are they of God or of Satan?

 

The writer of the Hebrew letter tells us that we must be disciplined to discern both good and evil and that this is a work of spiritual maturity (Heb. 5:11-14). One who has not fed upon the Word of God, first with the “milk,” and then progressing to the “strong meat” (KJV) of the Word is NOT able to properly make these right decisions!

Think about the contrast we see between the actions of God vs. actions of Satan upon our lives:

Area of Influence God Satan
Our Mistakes Offers the blood of Jesus that washes whiter than snow (Isa. 1:18; 1Jn. 1:9) Takes pleasure in them, especially if his “wiles” have contributed (Eph. 6:11)
Our Motivations Points us to the pathway of self-denial and selfless service (Mt. 16:24-26 Tempts us with self-interests, physical needs, social position, etc. (Mt. 4:3, 8; 16:23
Our Perspective Exalts the present help of the Lord (Ps. 46:1). Reminds us of the promises, whereby we can hope against hope (Rom. 5:3-5). Emphasizes the past, with its mistakes and heartaches. Magnifies our problems, by showing their hoplessness, impossibility, and pail
Our Guide Walk by faith (2Cor. 5:7; Heb. 11:6). Forget the past and reach forward (Phil. 3:13-14). Walk by sight and earthly wisdom (“the counsel of the ungodly” Ps. 1:1).

 

It is so very important, as we attempt to live for Jesus here, that we focus our attention on developing the discipline of discernment. Won’t you be persuaded, dear friend, to do that?

 

 Decision

Secondly, consider the discipline of decision. In the course of a lifetime there are many decisions to be made. Some of these decisions seem very trivial at the time and others may weigh on us because of their importance in setting the future course of our lives.  The Scriptures promise guidance in these decisions to the trusting Christian (Ps. 32:8; 25:9). The “way which you should go” often become more clear after meditation and prayer! Seeking guidance from God before making a decision is never a bad thing!

Of particular interest in considering this discipline is Jeremiah 42:3-10. First consider the context of this passage. “Jeremiah lived during troubled times. He became a prophet during Josiah’s reign (640-609 B.C.). Josiah was the last faithful king in Judah’s history (2Kings 22:1-23:7). His death (2Kings 23:28-30) marked the beginning of the last years of the nation of Judah…. Jeremiah was a biblical theologian…. Whom the Holy Spirit inspired to write fresh treatments of old themes and some ideas that were new when Jeremiah penned them…. the prophet asks people over 100 times to ‘turn around’ or ‘repent.’ ” (ESV Study Bible, pp. 1364-1367).   From this passage we glean three outstanding factors that determine the discipline of decision:

  1. Willingness to ask guidance from God (vv3 and 6, Js. 1:5). They said, “Whether it be good, or whether it be evil, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God…” We have many examples in Scripture of those who were willing to seek guidance from God before embarking on an important activity: “Moses at the Red Sea, Joshua at passage of the Jordan, Ruth in the village of Bethlehem, David in the wilderness, Nehemiah in the court of the king, Jeremiah in the prison, Peter on the housetop, and Paul on board the storm-tossed sailing craft” (Erdman, p. 40)
  2. Willingness to wait for God’s guidance (v7). They had to wait for ten days for the word of the Lord to come to Jeremiah after he asked God on their behalf. There is a song by Stuart Hamblen that speaks to the need to wait for God. The lyrics of that song are as follows:

Teach Me Lord to Wait

Teach me Lord to wait right down on my knees,
Till in Your own good time You answer my pleas;
Teach me not to rely on what others do,
But to wait in prayer for an answer from You.

 

Refrain:

“They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength,
They shall mount up with wings like eagles.
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.”
Teach me Lord, teach me Lorde, to wait

 

Teach me Lord to wait while hearts are a-flame,
Let me humble my price and call on your name.
Keep my faith renewed, my eyes on Thee,
Let me be on this earth what you want me to be

 

  1. Willingness to obey the will of God (v. 10). The word from Jeremiah to the people was, “If you will indeed stay in this land, then I will build you up and not tear you down, and I will plant you and not uproot you; for I will relent concerning the calamity that I have inflicted on you.” This was not really what they wanted to hear. Secretly they desired to flee into the land of Egypt where they would not see pestilence nor warfare; but they wanted God’s approval of their preference.

 

Sadly, in the following chapter we find the description of their failure to obey, “Azariah the son of Hoshaiah, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, “You are telling a lie! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, ‘You are not to enter Egypt to reside there’; 3 but Baruch the son of Neriah is inciting you against us to give us over into the hand of the Chaldeans, so they will put us to death or exile us to Babylon.” 4 So Johanan the son of Kareah and all the [a]commanders of the forces, and all the people, did not obey the voice of the Lord to stay in the land of Judah” (Jer. 43:2-4).

 

The question for all of us is, are we willing to obey the voice of the Lord “whether it be good or whether it be evil.”

 

Duty

“Is there delight deeper or more delectable than that of duty diligently done? To know one’s responsibility, to face its circumstances, both favorable and unfavorable, to follow the line of duty without deviation caused by difficulties or distraction, and to fulfill the task as assigned – all this brings great joy. Between finding out our task and fulfilling the same there lies the discipline of duty, often arduous and difficult, even to the point of impossibility”

(Edman, p. 247).

 

We have many Bible examples of those who responded when the will of God called them to duty. The Apostle Paul obeyed when he was called to bear witness in Rome (Acts 23:11). Abraham went when called to go out to a land that he knew nothing about and had not seen with the promise that he would inherit that land (Gen. 12). Joseph responded to God’s call to become the ruler and benefactor of his brethren (Gen. 39). Moses, though feeling unqualified followed God’s direction to lead his enslaved people from the iron furnace of Egypt (Ex. 3). David said “yes” when God called him to leave his duties as a shepherd boy to become king over Israel (1Sam. 16). Cyrus the Persian became God’s hands and feet to order the restoration of Jerusalem (Ezra 1). Mary humbled herself to become the mother of the messiah, to see the performance of those things told her from the Lord (Lk. 1:26ff).

 

Forces that may oppose our performance of Duty include the wrath of men, the waste of years, the waves of despair, and the wickedness of the Adversary.

 

  1. The Wrath of Men

They plotted to take Paul’s life the morning after the Lord called him to witness at Rome (Acts 23:12-13).  When David became King, the Philistines came up to seek him to thwart that from happening (2Sam. 5:17). When Nehemiah sought to rebuild his city, the adversaries were present with intimidation, innuendo, intrigue, and insinuation, to resist his efforts.

 

  1. Waste of Years

“Paul was taken from Jerusalem to Caesarea on his way to Rome, only to languish for an undefined and interminable period. There was no case against him, but he had no friends at court, nor would he stoop to bribery (Acts 24:26); with the result that he remained immobile in the dungeon. His soul entered into delay and darkness, caused by the negligence and selfishness of others” (Erdman, p. 250). Moses was rejected by his people and spent 40 years in the wilderness. David was hunted by an insanely jealous Saul and spent years fleeing to escape his attempts to kill him. Elijah sat by the brook when Ahab ruled the land.

 

  1. Waves of Despair

Paul did not perish in prison. He was compelled to appeal to Caesar. The indifference on the part of others comes to an end. Moses is called by God to go down into Egypt. Elijah is sent to Ahab. Paul at Tarsus is called to Antioch. “When God’s hour strikes, you will go forward into His will. Not perhaps as you had planned but in a way which He sees is best for you.” (Erdman, p. 251). The Lord often takes the storm out of the life of His children before He takes them out of the storm.

 

  1. The Wickedness of the Adversary

And then sometimes when all of the other forces have failed to hinder the performance of duty, the adversary makes a direct attack. Sometime that may come by sickness (Lk. 13:16), other times by self-pity (Mt. 16:21-25) or by self-sufficiency (1Tim. 3:6).

 

“The Discipline of Duty is not easy nor light, its performance is painful and perilous, but its culmination is delight” (Erdman. P. 253)

 

Conclusion:

Discernment, Decision, and Duty are disciplines worthy of our pursuit! Do you possess them? If not won’t you consider carefully what we have said and determine to grow by adding them to your character?

(Source: The Disciplines of Life by V. Raymond Erdman, pp. 39–43, 167–171, 247-253)

The Disciplines of Life: Dependability & Determination

Dependability and Determination are key disciplines that should be prevalent in the life of the Christian. This is the third lesson in our series, The Disciplines of Life. We have studied: Solitude and Discipleship thus far. In this lesson we want to look at the disciplines of dependability and diligence.

As we have been emphasizing in this series, these are called “disciplines” because they are not acquired without deliberate effort. Discipline is “Training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 360). We have also been pointing out the exhortations found in scripture. Paul told the Corinthians, “I discipline my body …” (2Cor. 9:27). Peter wrote to those Christians who were scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, “…prepare your minds for action …” (1Pet. 1:13)

Please  Consider …

Dependability (Lamentations 3:27)

The Strength or Weakness of Mature Years is Determined Largely in the Days of Youth. This includes the following features of one’s character:

  1. The dependability or irresponsibility,
  2. The sturdiness or vacillation of character,
  3. The sunshine or shadow of personality,
  4. The strength or weakness of body

God needs strong men and women, who can bear heavy burdens in dark and difficult days; and they can do so, if they have borne the yoke in their youth”  (Erdman, p. 91).

Dependable Performance of Duties Helps Prepare for the Stirring Service of God

Though sometimes these duties may be “boring” they discipline for further service. Thought they sometimes may be outside our “comfort zones” they stimulate growth. Dependable performance of duties from a young age helps to prepare for the stern realities of life.

What it means to bear the Yoke in one’s Youth

Bearing the yoke in one’s youth means to become accustomed early to do with cheerfulness one’s share of duties, however small that may be at first. It also means to complete one’s assignment conscientiously and thoroughly, even though no one sees us. It means to profit by one’s mistakes and to take correction gratefully. It means to serve for the love of service rather than for reward. To bear the yoke in youth is to be able to bear burdens in later years, and to bring glory to God in doing so.

Bible Example: David

David had a heart that loved God (1Sam 13:14; Ps. 89:20; Acts 13:22; 1Sam. 16:7, 12). He knew his future clearly (1Sam. 16:13).

“David was faithful in the tasks assigned to him, and in the extra opportunities which were available. He was required to care for his father’s sheep, a menial and uninspiring routine. He practiced on his harp upon his own initiative; and he applied himself with good zeal to both opportunities. We know something of his faithfulness to his father in his fearlessness of the lion and bear that attacked his flock (I Sam. 17:34, 35). We need more of that devotion in the duties assigned to children and young people, devotion that will stick to the job despite lions of laziness and bears of boredom. Loyalty to parents and employers, at the risk of loss to ourselves, leads to gain over Goliaths in the large conflicts of later life (I Sam. 17:36-51).”

 Others have as well:

  1. Joseph – called to be a statesman (Gen. 37:5-11).
  2. Joshua – called to be a military leader (Gen. 27: 18-23).
  3. John – called to be a forerunner for Jesus (Lk. 1:76-77; Jn. 1:22-23)

Others did not learn until late in life (but in plenty of time for their real service):

  1. Moses at the burning bush (Exod. 3:1-10).
  2. Simon Peter on the beach of Bethsaida (Luke 5:1-11).
  3. Saul of Tarsus at the Damascus gate (Acts 9:1-6).

Whether they know their life’s calling or not, the most important consideration about the future is to do faithfully what is before them today, for the discipline of dependability demands tasks thoroughly done” (Erdman, p. 95).

Doing their duty today will not leave them in darkness indefinitely. The light will come! (Psalm 112:4; Job 22:28; 23:8-12).Faithfulness leads to fulfillment of dreams, not futility; dependability, to delight of duty.

Now consider another discipline to be developed by all Christians …

Determination (Eph. 6:13)

The story is told that Henry Ford, the pioneer auto manufacturer, was often asked by young people, “How can I make my life a success?” His response was always, “If you start a thing, finish it!” He would then illustrate with a personal example:

“Plausible reasons for quitting are always at hand. Mr. Ford told us one day that when he was making his first car in that little brick building on the alley in the rear of his home, he work away with all the ardor of young enthusiasm looking forward to great results. Then the thrill and interest simply evaporated. Why? He said he had gone far enough on that first car to see how he could build a second and a better one, and the glowing new vision got in the way of his work. What was the use of finishing the car he had started? Some untaught inner wisdom must have warned him, for he forced himself on. He soon discovered he was learning more and more about his second car by going on to complete his first…. Following faithfully on never leads anyone into permanent darkness. But for the quitter, all he is likely to get is a stronger habit of quitting and a lower place to begin again. The man who will not give up, even if he fail of his objective, is led through to another objective; the man who hangs on as if he were paid to hang on can always start again at par or better – he has strengthened himself….Quitting makes a dead end of any road—often just as it was ready to open. Transfer if you must; catch another wavelength; change your level to a higher one, but don’t quit—it is always too soon to quit.”” (“Too Soon To Quit,” W. J. Cameron, the Ford Sunday Evening Hour, January 10, 1937. Quoted by V. Raymond Edmon on pp. 137-140 of The Disciplines of Life.)

Determination to finish what we have begun is a discipline we need!

This discipline is exemplified in the life of our Lord Jesus. At an early age He was about His Father’s business (Luke 2:49). In the strength of manhood He declared, ”My food is to do the will of him that sent me, and finish his work” (John 4:34). When His earthly service was complete He could pray, ”I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do” (John 17:4); and from Calvary’s Cross rang out His triumph, ”It is finished” (John 19:30).

“Can we not follow His footsteps, filled with His Spirit, to finish the task appointed, with heart aglow and hurrying feet, with strong hands and steady mind, with shield of faith and sword of Spirit, with patience to run the race that is set before us? Can we not trust Him for grace that is sufficient, for strength that is perfected in weakness, for help that is sure, and for faithfulness that will not fail, in order that we may know the discipline of doing our duty? Then it is always too soon to quit” (Erdman, p. 141).

Conclusion:

  1. These are the fundamentals in the deep discipline of dependability”
  • A heart that loves God
  • Confidence of a future life that is in His hands
  • Faithfulness in duty
  • Fearlessness before dangers, in associations, and in the fiery trial of envy of elders
  1. Determination to faithfully run the race that is set before us is a needed discipline.
  2. Dependability and determination go hand in hand to equip the Christian for all good works! May we ever strive to develop them as part of our character.

(Source: The Disciplines of Life by V. Raymond Edman, pp. 91-99, 137-141)

The Disciplines of Life: Discipleship

There are many disciplines that should be evident in the life of the Christian. Paul told the Corinthians, “I discipline my body …” (2Cor. 9:27). Peter wrote to those Christians who were scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, “…prepare your minds for action …” (1Pet. 1:13)

In the N.T. the words connected to discipleship are applied chiefly to the followers of Jesus and describe the life of faith… Discipleship then is the whole process of accepting the call of Jesus, obeying and enrolling in His service, imitating his example, learning his teaching, and serving Him as your master!” (Dictionary of N.T. Theology, Colon Brown, Vol. 1, p.480).

Let’s consider the requirements of discipleship … 

To Be Taught By the Master and Then to Teach Others

 Discipleship means ‘discipline!’ The disciple is the one who has been taught or trained by the Master, who has come with his ignorance, superstition, and sin, to find learning, truth, and forgiveness from the Saviour. Without discipline we are not disciples, even though we profess His name and pass for a follower of the lowly Nazarene. In an undisciplined age when liberty and license have replaced law and loyalty, there is greater need than ever before that we be disciplined to be His disciples.” (Disciplines of Life, V. Raymond Edman, p. 9)

Discipleship is carrying out the Great Commission! (Mt. 28:19-20; Mk. 16:15-16; 2Tim. 2:2).

The gospels detail the 3 ½ years Jesus spent preparing His apostles. “Apart from his atoning sacrifice, the main work of Jesus on earth was to train His disciples on whom would rest the future of the Kingdom of God” (Peter Wilson).

In His prayer to His father, he said, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which you have given Me to do” (Jn. 17:4)

When the apostles were told to “go make disciples” it brought back to their minds the 3 ½ years He had taught them.

  1. Having right priorities in life
  2. Watching out for false doctrine
  3. Being humble
  4. Not being materialistic

We too have a responsibility to the great commission.

“The invitation of Jesus was come and learn of me. The charge that followed was go and teach. Upon everyone who has learned, the Lord has placed the responsibility of telling others what he has learned. When he said to the Apostles, ‘teach them to observe all thing whatsoever I have commanded you,” the command was passed on to those who should obey the gospel. From that time, it has been the responsibility of the baptized disciple to follow that command!” (Let’s Go Fishing For Men, Homer Hailey, p. 7).

The Discipline of Conversion

We recognize our lost state (Isa. 53:6; Rom. 3:23; Gal. 3:22; Eph. 2:3, 12). This discipline is difficult for the natural heart because we don’t like to admit our sin and guilt. It takes a person with a good and honest heart to accept. Condider those who did …

  1. David did (2Sam. 12:13)
  2. Peter did (Lk. 5:8)
  3. The woman who washed Jesus feet with her tears did (Lk. 7:48, 50)
  4. The Publican did (Lk. 18:13)

When we come in faith, He will save us by His grace (Tit. 3:5; Jn. 1:12). He wants to “disciple” – teach and train – those who come to Him (Mt. 11:28-30). Without discipline we are not his sons; but as His sons we need the exhortation of Heb. 12:5-6, even though it may at the time be “grevious” (12:11).

The Discipline of Cost

 Jesus taught the importance of sacrifice in following Him (Mt. 10:37; Lk. 14:26). We must have the same attitude the Apostle Paul had (Phil. 3:8). “This denial of all, including ourselves, is the deepest discipline of discipleship. There are those who are dearer to us than life itself but they should not be dearer than the Saviour” (Eman, p. 7). Two strong illustrations about counting the cost are given by Jesus in Lk. 14:28.33.

The Discipline of Cross-Bearing

 Three things are necessary for us each day

  1. Daily food (for which we are to pray) (Mt. 6:11)
  2. Daily work (in which we are to be faithful) (1Thess. 4:11-12; 2Thess. 3:10-13)
  3. Daily cross (which we are to take up and follow Him) (Lk. 9:23; 14:27; Mt. 16:24). This cross is the denial of self, in the deepest meaning of that word, and of all that life has to offer, in full surrender to the will of God; in the spirit of Calvary’s Cross, to be sure” (Edman, p. 14)
Conclusion:

We must all understand discipleship if we are to do the Lord’s bidding. May recalling to mind the successes of the First Century Christians motivate us to “keep on keeping on!” Are you His disciple? Are you teaching others as you were taught?

(Sources: The Disciplines of Life, V. Raymond Edman; Celebration of Discipline, Richard J. Foster; Sermon Outline by Randy Sexton preached at County Line Rd, St. Joseph, MO, 5/17/1992)

The Disciplines of Life: Solitude

Jesus often separated himself from others to be alone, to pray, to spend time of quiet in the presence of His Father. This was a “discipline” that he incorporated into His earthly life.

Paul told the Corinthians, “… I discipline my body…” (2Cor 9:27) Usually when we think of bodily discipline, we think of diet & nutrition, exercise, and life style. I don’t believe this is what Paul had in mind. (See Foot Note). Peter said, “…prepare your minds for action” (1Pet. 1:13).“Discipline” is “Training the corrects, molds or perfects the mental faculties or moral character” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 360).

These words were written 70 years ago, and are even truer today than they were then, “Ours is an undisciplined age. The old disciplines are breaking down, and the foundations of society appear to be crumbling. The discipline of the home seems to be vanishing in the new psychology which teaches: parents obey your children! The discipline of the schoolroom is becoming anathema, according to the so-called Progressive Education, lest the personality of the child be thwarted by the imposition of a will higher than his own. The old academic ‘disciplines’: mathematics, ancient language, grammar, are being ignored as obsolete and unimportant. Above all, the discipline of divine grace is derided as legalism or is entirely unknown to a generation that is largely illiterate in the Scriptures. We need the rugged strength of Christian character that can come only from discipline: the discipline of spirit, of mind, of body, of society. Otherwise, the home will lose its heart as well as its hearth, the schoolroom its strength, the textbooks their exactness, the Scriptures their sanction” (The Disciplines of Life, V. Raymond Edman, Preface)(underlining is mine).

One of the disciplines that we need to incorporate into our lives is “solitude.” As I have studied men and women of faith from the Bible, I am more convinced than ever of this. One of my favorite authors, who has written about many of these men and women of faith says, “A survey of the Scriptures reveals that those God used greatly were often prepared for those exploits during periods of solitude, quietness, and obscurity” (Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit, Charles Swindoll, p.46)

Bible Examples of God Using the Discipline of Solitude in the Lives of His Servants

Moses (Ex. 2:1-4:31; Acts 7:20-43; Heb. 11:23-29). Moses was positioned to embrace a remarkable political future. As he approached the age of 40, he visited his Israelite brethren and observed one being treated unjustly (Acts 7:23-24). After murdering the Egyptian, he fled to the plains of Midian and married the daughter of a local priest (Ex. 2:11-12). He spent the next 40 years tending his father-in-law, Jethro’s sheep (Gen. 3:1; Acts 7:30). Not until he was 80 years old did God bring him out of obscurity to lead His people

David (1Sam. 16:12-13; 17:34-58 and chapters 18 – 31). Anointed king over Israel as a teen, he didn’t assume the throne until age 30. After defeating Goliath, he spent the next 13 years as a fugitive, hiding in the caves of Engedi from King Saul. During this period of solitude, he wrote some of his beloved Psalms, but mostly he lived in obscurity in the Judean wilderness.

Joseph (Gen. chapters 39 -41). Thrown in jail because of the accusations of Potiphar’s wife (39:19-20), he spent 2 years (41:1) in the prisons of Egypt. “Though his sentence was unfair, Joseph learned much in that cell of confinement” (Swindoll). At age of 30, he was made “ruler” 2nd only to Pharaoh (41:38-43).

Elijah (1Ki. 17:1-16). Elijah stood toe-to-toe with Ahab the King to boldly declare no rain or dew would fall on the kingdom for as long as it would take for them to repent! To protect him from the expected backlash, the Lord hid Elijah by the brook Cherith. During this “brookside retreat” Elijah was renewed and refreshed by God.

John the Baptist (Lk. 3:1-22; 7:18-30; Mt. 3:1-17; 11:7-15; 14:1-12; Mk.6:14-29). “He lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel” (Lk. 1:80). … the word of God came to him in the wilderness and he spent much of his adult life preaching in the there (Lk. 3:1-3)… No distinction, no prominent place of ministry, no compelling message that appealed to the masses. Only years of solitude, silence, and obscurity, which ended when he was beheaded at the request of a silly dancing girl (Mt. 14:3-12)…. Yet, God called him to the desert. He had His reasons and John submitted to the plan” (Swindoll)

The Apostle Paul (Acts chapters 9, 22 and 26). We first meet him as a “raging bull,” persecuting followers of Christ. God interrupts his march to Damascus by striking him blind. “In less than a week, God transformed Saul from a vicious Christian-hating murderer into a passionate preacher…. God’s on-going process of preparing Saul was time away, all alone, to think through the implications of his newfound faith, to begin to know his Savior much more intimately, to come to terms with what it meant to be a messenger of grace” (Swindoll). Read Galatians 1:10-17 for Paul’s further explanation of the events that occurred during this time in his life. “Saul of Tarsus lived with the ever-imposing drive to please people. He lived for the approval of the Sanhedrin; it fed his pride. But all of that changed … Saul of Tarsus was poised to take a top leadership role in the Jewish religion but that all changed …” 9 (Swindoll).

Paul did NOT … 1) Immediately consult with flesh and blood nor 2) Go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before him.

“The Place and Purpose of Arabia – it was probably a vast expanse of desert – a barren wilderness – a thousand days spent alone thinking, praying, wrestling within, listening to God … Paul developed his theology here, meeting God intimately and deeply – “a three-year crash course in sound doctrine from which would flow a lifetime of preaching, teaching, and writing” (Swindoll).

Jesus…

  1. Inaugurated His ministry by spending 40 days alone in the desert (Mt. 4:1-11).
  2. Spent the entire night alone in the desert hill, before choosing the twelve (Lk. 6:12).
  3. Upon receiving the news of John the Baptist’s death, “withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself” (Mt. 14:13).
  4. After the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, “went into the hills by himself…” (Mt. 14:23).
  5. Following a long night of work, “in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went to a secluded place, and was praying there …” (Mk. 1:35)
  6. Other instances in Mk. 6:31; Lk. 5:16; Mt. 17:1-9; Mt. 26:36-46.

The Discipline of Solitude Involves

  1. Being Alone With God Free of Distractions
  2. Meditating on the Scriptures
  3. Deliberately Setting Aside Time
  4. The Patience of Hindered Purpose
  5. The Discipline of Delay

How to Grow Deep

Slow Down and Rethink
  1. Take time to discover what really matters
  2. Focus on lifting the curse of superficiality that shadows your life
  3. Grow roots deep into the soil of those things that truly matter
  4. Rework your priorities and rethink your motives
Be Quiet and Reflect
  1. Silence is rarely tolerated in our culture
  2. As soon as you get in your car, you turn on the radio
  3. How desperately we need to push the mute button on all this noise
Be Still and Release
  1. We often battle pride and prestige and seek a place of power
  2. Richard Foster suggests the following as “steps into solitude”: Take advantage of the “little solitudes” that fill our day – “those early morning moments in bed before the family awakens … a morning cup of coffee before beginning the work of the day … the solitude of bumper-to-bumper traffic during the freeway rush hour …”

 “We can find or develop a ‘quiet place’ designed for silence and solitude.” 

“Let’s discipline ourselves so that our words are few and full. Let’s become known as people who have something to say when we speak. Let’s maintain plain speech: do what we say we will do.”

Conclusion:

Please consider the examples of Moses, David, Joseph, Elijah, John the Baptist, and Jesus. Note how they used periods of solitude to grow their relationship with the Father.

We encourage you to follow in the “footprints of Jesus that make the pathway glow “to “Follow the steps of Jesus where-e’er they go.”

(Sources: Chapter 4, “The Necessity of Solitude, Quietness, and Obscurity,” Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit, Charles Swindoll, pp. 45-60; The Disciplines of Life, V. Raymond Edman; Celebration of Discipline, Richard J. Foster, pp. 96-109)