Section Three: The Lifestyle Characteristics of a Godly Life.
Our current theme: Characteristic Three: Trusting God’s Provision.
Our reading for today: Mark 4: 21-25 (MsgB)
Jesus went on: “Does anyone bring a lamp home and put it under a washtub or beneath the bed? Don’t you put it up on a table or on the mantel? We’re not keeping secrets, we’re telling them; we’re not hiding things, we’re bringing them out into the open. Are you listening to this? Really listening? Listen carefully to what I am saying—and be wary of the shrewd advice that tells you how to get ahead in the world on your own. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity. Stinginess impoverishes.
As I discussed last time, my wife, Sandy, and I have had an interesting trek with Jesus when it comes to trusting God for provision. For over 40+ years now, we’ve done our best, as dedicated followers of Christ, to listen carefully for all the Master has to say to us (see passage above!), particularly when it comes to trusting Him to take care of us as we’ve served Him in full-time ministry for 30-plus years.
One wise man, who had served the Lord faithfully for most of his life, told me once that a man or woman never goes into pastoral ministry to get rich! How right that man certainly was! Now I know there are many jobs in the American culture that are indeed very low-paying professions, but until a person signs up to be a pastor of a local small church, I don’t think many can truly understand how very difficult it is to lead a church and live by faith. In truth, one of the reasons so many pastors leave the ministry before they reach retirement age is because of how very difficult it is for a pastor to support him or herself and a growing family on the typical wages paid by a church.
There are many reasons for this dilemma, with the first being the typical size of a church across the fruited plain of America. The average membership of a church is 70 people with 90% or more of the churches across the nation having less than 200 in attendance on any given Sunday morning. With the rising cost of facilities and other ministry expenses, pastors’ salaries are generally decreasing, forcing many good men and women of God to make some pretty difficult decisions. Many pastors, including my wife and I, have been forced in recent years to pursue other employment outside of the church to either supplement or replace entirely the salary a smaller church congregation is able to offer.
Now, I’m not telling you this to start a pity party, but to tell you a recent story on myself that might be an encouragement to you as you look to God to be your provider in the days ahead. You see, whether you are a pastor or a painter, a teacher or a trash collector, the cost of providing for you and your household in today’s society is certainly not something that is easily achieved. So, as Jesus says here in today’s passage, it’s vitally important for those who desire to follow Him in a dedicated way, to respond to His burning question…
Are you listening to this? Really listening?
Two years ago, as Sandy & I were just beginning to make the necessary transition away from full-time employment with our church, I was, quite honestly, freaking out as I looked at the frightening possibility of going from a full-time salary to what looked to be absolutely nothing unless the Lord did some pretty fast re-working of job possibilities for us! Now, as I mentioned in our last blog, Sandy & I have had a long heritage of seeing God do some pretty amazing things in providing for us over the years, but quite honestly, we’d never faced the kind of crisis we were facing with this situation. Our church family was on the verge of losing our building, our energies for keeping the ship afloat were waning, and with our ages in the earlier 60’s with no retirement possibilities, the options were very limited on what God might do.
One day, in the midst of one of my “O-God-O-God-O-God” prayer times, I finally came to the end of my words and simply shut up out of my tiredness. Deep in my heart, I sensed the Master speaking to me, with words that were not condemning but certainly were strong enough to hear His concern…
“Marty, you really have a problem with empty, don’t you?”
I stopped a moment to reflect on His question and then I blurted out in anger…
“Damn right, Jesus… (I paused to take a big breath) …I’m freakin’ afraid of empty! As a matter of fact, I’ve spent my whole freakin’ life trying to avoid freakin’ empty!” (I’ve changed some of the words here to make this blog readable to all!)
The room was silent. I wondered if my salty language might have offended the Master, but then, I believe that I heard this…
“Thanks for revealing that, Marty. Of course, I’ve known that about you all along…but now, would you like an opportunity to step into empty with Me so I can show you what only I can do with it?”
Hmm. Here I am freakin’ out about empty, actually cussing to the Lord about it, and just like Jesus, He responds to my deep fears with a calm and collected spirit about Him, simply asking me to admit my fear and then invite me to step into it like it was nothing more than an invitation to the park!
Well, that was two years ago now, and I can report to you that Jesus has indeed taken us on a journey into empty. But you know what? With Him, the journey has been amazingly insightful, and quite honestly, Sandy & I have never seen God do the type of things He is currently doing to provide for us over the last two years! And much like the Master says here in today’s passage…the key has been that it’s all about giving…not getting. Indeed, generosity does beget generosity, while stinginess impoverishes.
It’s my prayer that you might desire to experience such amazing God-truths, first-hand, in the days ahead as well. Anybody wanna take a trip into empty?
My prayer: Jesus, two years ago, when You invited me to step into empty with You, I could have never imagined all You have shown me since. Admittedly, I’m still afraid of empty, but I have learned, through Your taking me there, that it’s not nearly as scary as I once believed. I thank You for that realization. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: While the word empty can have many connotations, what specific aspects of empty are the most frightening to me today? What practical steps can I take today to invite Jesus into my fears of empty and allow Him to speak His words of truth and grace?
So what is God speaking to you today as we attempt to live the Christ-centered life?
Over a thirty-six week period, you and I will take a deeper look into twelve key characteristics of a godly life. In other words, we’ll take A Journey into Christian Discipleship. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Journey home page for ease of use. ENJOY!
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