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Doing What We Should: The Keys to Consistency

04 Oct

There are few of us who wouldn’t like to improve the consistency of our obedience. We make what we believe an honest effort to please God, but we find ourselves stumbling and failing to follow our conscience.

We can identify with the pain Paul described in Rom. 7:15-24: “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. . . . For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. . . . For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

It is this wretchedness, of course, that originally brought us to the foot of the cross seeking to be saved. Yet having been forgiven of our past sins, we still find ourselves frustrated by failures in our obedience.

John 17:20 (40 kb)Sin is an ongoing reality for us, even as Christians. John wrote, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8).

This means that we’ll continue to struggle with sin as long as we live in this world. Try as we may (and as we must), we can’t be perfect. The fact that we’re fallible, however, doesn’t mean that we’re helpless. There is something we can do, and it is simply this: we can improve! We can learn to be more consistent in our obedience. And we simply must not allow ourselves to settle for anything less.

It seems to me that this is a subject of immense importance. Learning how to win crucial victories over sin and actually grow in the consistency of our obedience is, I believe, one of the major challenges before the Lord’s people of our day.

1. Clarifying Our Character.

We won’t make much progress improving our conduct until we see that our conduct is produced by our character. If we frequently find ourselves acting in ways that contradict what we say are our principles, at some point we have to ask whether these really and truly are our principles! We may need to clarify who it is that we really intend to be, and strengthen our commitment to those things that we say are our principles.

2. Keeping Our Vision Clear.

Even when we’re truly and deeply committed to the principles of righteousness, the devil is ingenious in finding ways to distract us and fool us into momentarily forgetting how important certain things are to us. We must learn how, in the hard moments, to remember who we are. We must develop the ability to stop and think. The key to Jesus’ own obedience was His ability to keep clearly focused on who He really was and where He was going. We must look “unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).

 3. Training the Flesh.

If we find that our flesh is too weak to reliably carry our spirit’s instructions, it needs to be strengthened. If it’s been undisciplined for a long time, the flesh is used to doing whatever it wants to do and it will resist being brought into submission to a higher authority. But given time and incremental training, the flesh can be brought into subjection. Paul said, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection” (1 Cor. 9:27). The flesh doesn’t have to be the hindrance we’ve let it be in the past. There are specific things we can do to strengthen it. It can, in fact, be trained to be one of our greatest spiritual assets. We can learn to use our bodies rightfully, as instruments through which God is glorified (1 Cor. 6:20).

 4. The Sources of Spiritual Strength.

In moments of specific need, we can’t have available to us the same spiritual strength as the saints of old if we don’t live as they lived in their overall manner of life. There are certain activities that are the means by which spiritual strength and wisdom are acquired, and we must build these “disciplines” into our daily lives. Such things as prayer, study of the Scriptures, worship, meditation, and fellowship with God’s people may seem commonplace, but they are nothing less than the activities through which we become strong in our relationship with God. It’s time that we learned how to look practically at these disciplines as the sources of spiritual growth and strength.

 5. Moment-by-Moment Obedience.

Everything about life and godliness comes down to the peaceful management of the moments that come and go. No one is strong or wise enough to handle at once everything that life can throw at us, and we only discourage ourselves by trying to take a bigger approach to obedience than is possible. The truth is, life comes to us in moments, one at a time, and these individual moments are always manageable. There are many things we can learn to help us manage them more successfully in our obedience to God. It is possible for us to live the same kind of life as Enoch, who “before he was taken . . . had this testimony, that he pleased God” (Hb. 12:5).

Obedience to God can never be completely “automatic.” There is no way to eliminate the necessity of choosing obedience in each moment that comes to us. Yes, there are things we can learn that will help us. And yes, we can build up a certain momentum that will tend to keep us moving in the right direction. But granting all these things, it still must be said that individual acts of godliness are choices that we must make.

We won’t always make the right choices, obviously. We can’t be perfect, but we can improve.

(1)    We can improve our character, clarifying what our principles really are and making a more powerful commitment to them.

(2)    We can keep our vision more clear and do a better job of seeing through the devil’s distractions.

(3)    We can, by patient practice, train our flesh to be stronger, so that it is more of an ally and less of an enemy.

(4)    We can practice more of the spiritual disciplines and live an overall style of life that is conducive to spiritual strength.

(5)    We can improve in our management of the moments and become more consistent in our choices.

In short, we can learn to more “pure in heart” (Mt. 5:8).

We can live before our God with a more wholehearted passion for Him and His will. We can be “those who diligently seek Him” (Heb 11:6).

And “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,” we can be those who “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:13,14).

Worth Doing “Badly?”

In the Lord’s work, we must be willing to try to do whatever is necessary

 (Luke 16:10)  “”Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”

“Humility” sometimes serves as a respectable smokescreen for negligence, laziness, cowardice, and other less-than-honorable characteristics.

(Exodus 3:10-11)  “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” {11} But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?””

 (Exodus 4:10-13)  “Moses said to the LORD, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” {11} The LORD said to him, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? {12} Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” {13} But Moses said, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.””

 (Matthew 25:24-30)  “”Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. {25} So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ {26} “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? {27} Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. {28} “‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. {29} For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. {30} And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'”

“I can’t” sometimes means little more than “I don’t want to.”

“Someone else can do it better” frequently translates into “I would rather someone else do it, period.”

It is good to have high standards of excellence — but, in the Lord’s work, we cannot afford the luxury of declining to try a worthwhile task merely because we think we cannot do it as well as we would like.

The Lord’s work is that of saving spiritual lives.

In regard to physical life, the first person on the scene of an auto accident would not think of letting persons die in a burning vehicle while he waited for more skilled rescuers to arrive.

There are simply some activities in life where one must always do what one can.

I. “ANYTHING WORTH DOING IS WORTH DOING BADLY”

This remark by G. K. Chesterton contains an important insight.  When a task deserves to be done at all, it deserves a less-than-perfect attempt while we are learning to do the thing better.  In very few of the practical affairs of life is it possible to wait to act until we can act up to the standards of our ideals or those of others.

Most things must be done relatively poorly before they can be done passably well.  Much as our pride might like to find one, there is just no shortcut to competence.  It is practice that makes “perfect,” and the person with no time or inclination to be a beginner for awhile will forfeit the pleasure of ever being anything more than that.

“The shortest cut is usually through.”

“A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault” (John Henry Newman).

 II. THE SHIRKER IS NOT TRULY HUMBLE

This way of looking at life and the Lord’s work does not require that we give up our appreciation of excellence and settle for mediocrity.  It does mean that, in valuable and urgent works like the Lord’s, we must have the true humility to do a mediocre job at first while we are trying to improve our skills.

We may excuse ourselves from our work with “modest” remarks about our abilities, but it is actually pride, not humility, that is holding us back.  We don’t want to be laughed at, or do a job that would look inferior by comparison to someone else’s, etc.

In truth, there is no more proud or self-centered person than the one who will not do anything except what he can “look good” doing.  In the Lord’s work, it is a pity that the doing or not doing of so many things is determined by such considerations of ego.

The truly humble person does not shirk work he needs to be involved in — he swallows his selfish pride enough to make a fool of himself, if need be, in the attempt to do something that is worth his effort.

 III. THE LORD IS LOOKING FOR PEOPLE WHO WILL TRY

As someone has said, “The Lord is not looking for people who can do everything; He is looking for people who will try to do anything.” Cf. Isa. 6:8.

In nearly every congregation, there is a handful of Christians who understand this. These folks are refreshing to all who have the privilege of working with them — they can always be counted on to try, regardless of the nature of the work. They are not always the multi-talented, conspicuously-gifted ones, and they never sound a trumpet before them. But they are workers.

They have placed no restrictions on the nature of the work they are willing to attempt in the service of other people’s souls. Whether we do things in a big or little way, our “sufficiency” is from God.

 (2 Corinthians 3:5)  “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.”

Our quibbles about our “little ability” may place the emphasis in the wrong place!

(Exodus 4:10-11)  “Moses said to the LORD, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” {11} The LORD said to him, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD?”

Ironically, it is actually more difficult when we are “strong” to do our work as it should be done – (2 Corinthians 12:10)  “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

The Lord is never more pleased than when we do all we can with limited resources

(Mark 12:43-44)  “Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. {44} They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything–all she had to live on.””

 (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)  “And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. {2} Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. {3} For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, {4} they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. {5} And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.”

In all things our attitude must be that of Solomon at his coronation: I am inexperienced, but I will do what I can . . . and God will help.

(1 Kings 3:7-9)  “”Now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. {8} Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. {9} So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?””

Most of us need a keener awareness that, after all, the Lord has called us to serve, not to be served.  As servants, we are to be at the beck and call of our Master, ready to be used in whatever way He may need us — without regard to whether our efforts may suffer by comparison to someone else’s.

If what our Master needs is something we can only do badly at present, then the Master’s work is worth doing “badly.”

If we are not faithful in the “least” amounts of ability, would we be in “much”?

(Matthew 25:23)  “”His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!'”

 (Luke 16:10)  “”Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”

 
1 Comment

Posted by on October 4, 2018 in Encouragement

 

One response to “Doing What We Should: The Keys to Consistency

  1. Terry Davenport

    October 9, 2018 at 10:32 am

    This is so good. I like the part about importance of choosing, and being willing to do it poorly until Until you can do it well. I want to hear, “well done” from Him some day. Terry

    Sent from my iPad

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